Spirit North will be celebrating the third successful cross country ski program for Indigenous youth March 9.
Hundreds of kids, elders and dignitaries from the South Okanagan will gather at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre for the Multi Community Festival Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The event will feature a celebration of First Nations culture, food, dancing, games and of course, skiing.
The complete Spirit North program runs from September to June and involves three schools, two from Penticton and the other from Oliver, which was added this season.
As well, there is a similar program in West Kelowna and there is also the possibility of a Vernon school joining next fall.
Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School and West Bench Elementary School are the two Penticton schools participating.
In total about 200 student take part at Nickel Plate.
Perianne Jones, the Southern B.C. program co-ordinator and former Olympic skier, has been with the local program since it’s start.
“We’ve really seen a big difference with the kids, lot of them have been skiing for three years and they’ve come a long way as skiers but also as kids,” said Jones recalling a recent session. “We were there with a group of (grades) ones and twos and we made it farther than we’d ever made it before then I realized we’ve been skiing with them since kindergarten.”
The students have ski time during the school day and as well, there is an after school program that’s been growing in leaps and bounds.
“They’re really happy to be there, that’s been a positive change for sure, before the program started I don’t think they were too sure about cross country skiing,” Jones said. “I think it’s different how it impacts each individual kid, for some students it’s huge and it’s really great for them to have something consistent that they can go out in the after school program as a group and do, even if they don’t go skiing it’s having that connection that opportunity that wouldn’t be there otherwise, is important to them.”
And it’s fun for the instructors as well.
“It definitely makes me feel like a kid again,” said Jones. “Often when the Spirit North leaders are out with the kids after school, sometimes we pinch ourselves and say ‘we’re so lucky to be able to do this.’”
The non-profit organization, founded by two-time Olympic medalist Beckie Scott, now operates from Manitoba west and reaches thousands of Indigenous children and their families.
Those families registered can also go to Nickel Plate whenever they want at no cost for the day or equipment.