Exploring the mountains, breathing in the fresh air, and connecting to the land is when Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) woman Myia Antone is happiest — whether it's hiking, skiing, or simply sitting back and taking in the beauty that surrounds her.
Sharing this feeling with others and breaking down barriers to outdoor recreation for indigenous women has become her passion.
The 24-year-old is the founder and director of Indigenous Women Outdoors, a new non-profit organization that helps First Nations women reconnect to their traditional territories and roots through backcountry sports on the North Shore and in Squamish.
The group creates safe learning experiences through outdoor programs that provide gear and training to give women the confidence to take part in skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, and other activities.
Antone's inspiration to help women in her community reignite their connection to the outdoors stems from facing barriers to backcountry sports in her own childhood, as well as not seeing a whole lot of indigenous representation in the outdoor industry growing up.
“I always loved getting outdoors, but as everyone knows there are so many barriers for folx to get outside, whether that's gear or time, money or knowledge,” she said.
“Growing up in Squamish, I saw so many people doing these really crazy, cool activities and I wanted to try them but that wasn't really an option for me at that point. Then when I got older and I was able to start affording these things a bit more and I started getting into the sports, I saw no other indigenous folx, or very few of us, in these spaces.”
Breaking down barriers to the backcountry
In 2017, Antone put the wheels in motion to start making a change with Tá7elnexwtway, a hiking project for Squamish Nation women that she kick-started with a grant.
“I guess I've always just wanted to help people, especially in my community, and figure out how best I can,” she said.
“So, I started a hiking program a couple of years ago. There was a lot of excitement around it, and I realized I wanted to grow it and help more indigenous folx who live on my territory.”
The result is her inspiring non-profit organization IWO, which launched last year.
“By creating a non-profit, I was really able to reach a wider audience and apply for more grants," Antone said. "It's through the grants and the partnerships now with local organizations that we’re able to offer some pretty awesome programming.”
At the moment, the IWO courses are a little restricted due to COVID-19 provincial health officer regulations, but they are currently running a backcountry mentorship program for six women, focused on skiing, snowboarding and avalanche safety.
“Everyone in the program is new to the backcountry, so it's pretty sweet being able to support these women on their journey,” Antone said.
“We've been doing two workshops a month, all about safety in the backcountry and we provide [Avalanche Canada] AST courses for everyone. It's just a way to get outside and be in the mountains surrounded by the forest and the trees with other Indigenous folx.”
When asked how women have responded to the program so far, Antone exclaimed: “Oh my gosh. They love it!”
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Reigniting a connection to the land
While backcountry safety and practical skills are a big part of the programming, Antone is also passionate about reconnecting Indigenous peoples to their lands and roots because it allows an opportunity for healing and to share knowledge and culture in a safe space.
“It's such a special feeling to be in the mountains with just other Indigenous women, especially because a bunch of us are from the local communities,” she said.
“Knowledge sharing is really easy when you're in a really safe and comfortable space. A lot of us are either coming back to our communities or cultures and learning our languages and ceremonies and so, we get to really share that piece of ourselves with the group too.
“We get to leave every day just so happy in our hearts and spirits, and our minds are full of knowledge.”
On top of running the non-profit, Antone is also a full-time student in the Squamish Language program at Simon Fraser University – learning and teaching the traditional language is another of her great loves.
“There is this really amazing energy in the Indigenous revitalization space, where a lot of young folx are wanting to reclaim that piece of us and are wanting to learn and teach the languages that our people come from,” said Antone, who is also a UBC graduate in environment and sustainability.
“For me, getting outside and land-based learning is such a big piece of it. So, I'm hoping to bridge my outdoor work with my language work.
“I think that would be my dream.”
Antone is also hoping to break down the barriers surrounding indigenous knowledge of the land and the outdoors and make it more widely recognized.
“I think there is space in avalanche safety training and in the outdoor world to really uphold Indigenous knowledge, especially when the local communities have been on these lands for generations and thousands of years. We have such an intimate knowledge of these lands ... but we don’t hold space for that.”
Youngest recipient of the Tim Jones Award
Her inspirational work was recognized this week on the North Shore.
In her mid-20s, Antone has become the youngest recipient of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival's Tim Jones Community Achievement Award, which is co-presented by North Shore Rescue.
The award is presented to a community member who has made an outstanding contribution to the North Shore outdoor or sports community, in memoriam of the late and great Tim Jones, a paramedic and chief for more than 24 years with North Shore Rescue.
Now in its eighth year, the award represents Jones’ legacy and serves as an inspiration to the community to selflessly help others. It highlights those who educate and share a passion for nature and a love for the North Shore’s backyard mountains, just as Jones did.
While the past seven recipients of the award – which is usually regarded as more of a lifetime achievement – have been quite a bit older than Antone, this year the VIMFF shifted its focus to a younger generation to “inspire everyone that making a change and contributing to society does not come with age, but with passion and tenacity.”
And, Antone has demonstrated all of that and so much more through her work with IWO. It’s why her friend and colleague Sandy Ward nominated her.
“She strives to break down the barriers that keep these women from recreational sports, including high costs of equipment and access to knowledge,” Ward said in her submission.
“She provides a safe space for these women to learn and thrive within a very tough industry.”
And, the judges couldn’t agree more.
Lindsay Jones, wife of the late Tim Jones, said Antone was “a wonderful role model.”
“She selflessly helps other Indigenous women feel safe and supported while inspiring them to reconnect with their ancestral land,” she said.
Peter Haigh, a North Shore Rescue member, said Antone deserved the recognition, and he hoped the spotlight helped her become better known, so she can encourage more participation in the outdoors.
“Myia is re-introducing members of her society who would typically not learn to enjoy the great outdoors that some of us love,” he said.
“She is active in the outdoors and encouraging others to experience the healing powers.”
'Honoured' to be recognized for her work
Antone said she was “grateful and surprised” to receive the Tim Jones Award.
“I'm very honoured that a friend nominated me,” she said. “I do work really hard and I put my head down, and that's just what I've always done, and what I do. So, to have people that I really look up to see that in me, it just means so much."
She said it was “amazing” the award was now acknowledging younger generations.
“The reality is we're going to be doing this work for a really, really long time, and to see people recognize that in us already, is really empowering and it makes me want to work even harder and inspire more people," Antone said.
“I'm just really excited and I really hope that I can hold Tim Jones’ legacy in a beautiful way and really honour his life, his spirit, and his family.”
Looking to the future, Antone hopes to grow the IWO community through a mentorship program with past participants.
“I hope that we are able to inspire other indigenous folx to want to try these outdoor sports and have a base where we can support more and more people," she said.
“I would love next year for people to not have to ask me what my non-profit is, but for them to just know who we are and what we do and know that our door is always open.”
Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News