EXSHAW – An organization that helps empower Indigenous youth through sport received a hefty donation to continue its work across the country.
Spirit North received more than $100,000 from the Spruce Meadows Leg Up Foundation in a presentation Tuesday (Sept. 28) at the Exshaw School. The money, raised through a virtual auction, will go towards helping the athletic ski programming that is aimed at helping the health and well-being of Indigenous youth.
“I’ve seen kids learn to be better people in positive ways,” said Tristan House, a member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation and community ski coach with Spirit North. “Being able to ski and be out there with their friends gave them the opportunity to be good at something else, in this case it’s skiing. Some kids weren’t able to play hockey or baseball and are now able to ski.”
House said the money will go towards equipment, food, races, proper skiing clothing and travel to ensure youth can compete.
After starting with only 11 kids, the local program has grown to closer to 200 participants from the Stoney Nakoda Nation, House said.
He noted the Stoney Nakoda Nation has a strong connection with Spirit North, due to its longstanding work with Indigenous youth and becoming involved in the community.
“Spirit North is one of the leaders of truth and reconciliation for Aboriginal youth right across western Canada. They’re a true leader in truth and reconciliation. They come to our ceremonies, participate in our song and dance and for them to be able to do that earns a lot of respect in the community,” House said.
“The Elders praise Spirit North to give our youth the opportunity to be out there in the world and ski in world class facilities. A lot of kids want to be part of the program and Spirit North gives them that chance to be leaders.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was founded in 2008 and the federally organized group released its report in 2015. The commission report outlined 94 calls to action that would aid in reconciling Canada’s painful past with its Indigenous people.
Lori Fyke, a director with Spruce Meadows Leg Up Foundation, said te group first became involved in Spirit North after seeing Scott speak about the organization in 2019 and its goals.
“I was quite moved by it and it meshed well with the focus for Spruce Meadows Leg Up Foundation,” she said. “We appreciated the opportunities for children and the focus on reconciliation and the good work they’ve been doing collaboratively with many Indigenous communities.”
Fyke said they had originally hoped to raise about $60,000, but were overwhelmed with support and interest from people who were impressed with the work it would go towards.
Spirit North was founded by cross-country skier Beckie Scott, who won gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics and silver in the 2006 Winter Olympics. It has grown into a national charitable organization designed to help the health and well-being of Indigenous youth.
The organization works with schools and communities to help encourage Indigenous youth develop athletic skills, improve their performance in the classroom and create a deeper connection with their community.
According to the Spirit North website, it helped deliver programs to more than 6,300 Indigenous youth in 2020 in 62 communities and 77 schools.
House said he became involved in the program when Scott, American cross-country skier Justin Wadsworth and Exshaw School success teacher Genevieve Soler came to Morley to look for people to help as leaders.
As an athlete in hockey, baseball and golf, he said it combined his love of athletics and traditional Indigenous culture.
“Being part of it has changed a person like myself for the better. Being able to socialize with world class athletes and be out there with the youth that are given the opportunity to learn a new sport," House said.