A celebration of land and culture with plenty of smiles on the side

Nearly 200 smiling young faces converged on Nickel Plate Nordic Centre last week for the season-ending Spirit North cross country ski festival.

Indigenous students from the South Okanagan have been taking lessons through the Alberta-based non-profit organizations since early winter.

Participating schools included Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School from the Penticton Indian Band and Sen ‘Pok’ Chin School in Oliver.

The program has been running at Nickel Plate since 2018 and this year’s festival was the first since COVID hit.

“This land is who they (students) are at their core, and their souls, they just shine so bright when they’re out here,” said Outma teacher Carey Phillip as she watched the kids skiing past her. “We are people of this land and this is where we need to be. I mean look at the smiles on those faces, they love it.

“A lot of people were involved in getting us away from the land so we’re going to need all that help to get back to it too and we’re really grateful to the people who run these programs.”

Elder Donna Good Water, a counsellor at Outma, was among the special guests at Nickel Plate for the day’s activities.

“It really is about getting out on the land,” she said. “The more we can get our kids out on the land the more important it is. It is just so much a part of our culture.

“Especially in the mountains, it’s a powerful place and a place of healing. For the kids to come out here and have fun doing different activities it does two things, it is a spiritual uplifting but it’s also helping them appreciate just what all is out here.”

For 10-year-old Outma student Nevaeh Evans the day was all about, “meeting new people and getting to hang out with my friends. It’s just so special to be out here.”

According to regional co-ordinator Perianne Jones of Spirit North the festival is all about the good things the kids have found in the mountains during the course of the season.

“This really was just so nice to finally get everyone together and have a celebration on the land,” she said. “I think for the kids to be up here with their whole school and other schools, being on skis and a little bit of culture here and there and eating, it’s all about having fun.”

Spirit North reaches thousands of Indigenous Canadian youth through land-based activities including cross country skiing and mountain biking programs with the goal of improving the health and well being of participants.

Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Penticton Herald