Indigenous Women Rise in the Outdoors
Backcountry program gives women skills to explore the mountains safely
Indigenous Women Outdoors (IWO) recently wrapped up its first winter season offering a Backcountry Mentorship program to local Indigenous women wanting to experience the amazing world of backcountry skiing/splitboarding. What a season it was!
IWO is a non-profit organization based in the Sea to Sky corridor working on the traditional territories of the Sk̲ wx̲ wú7mesh and Lil̓ wat7úl. We are gaining more Indigenous representation in the outdoor industry by breaking down the barriers around accessing knowledge and gear in these often high-cost sports.
When Myia Antone of the Skwxwú7mesh nation and I set out on this adventure together, we had no idea what to expect and what was to come of everything.
“I learned that you cannot plan everything. Between this backcountry cohort being our very first IWO cohort and program, to COVID19, to learning how to backcountry ski myself - you cannot plan everything. However this space - this unknown - allowed all the participants to guide where this program went,” says Antone.
“We took feedback, asked what they wanted to learn, and then boom, magic! No matter how much planning we did - we could not have done it without these amazing women. I am so honoured they accepted their invitation to this program and grateful they shared so many pieces of themselves with me, and my territory,” says Antone, IWO founder.
Of course, as a new non-profit, there were many, many challenges, but with the outstanding help from the outdoor industry, we succeeded in every way we could have imagined. From gaining access to gear through a partnership with Evo Whistler, to Arc’teryx offering workshops with some of their athletes, our season was more than we could have asked for and we are so grateful for everyone who stepped up to help.
“I wouldn't have been able to do any of the things we did without the program,” say Kathryn Anderson, of the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Throughout the season IWO was able to certify eight women with its Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 and 3 with the AST 2. This has been by far our biggest achievement as a small organization.
“Myia and I worked so hard for this and it’s done! These women now have the knowledge to safely explore their traditional territories together, and that in itself felt like such a huge accomplishment.”
Jackie Andrew of the Lil’wat Nation says: “The networking on this unique program allows us to discuss ideas, challenges and goals that are within each of us as Indigenous women. It’s actually really powerful that we as indigenous women can pull together as a team in any given situation.”
But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. COVID definitely reared its ugly head throwing a wrench in a few of our plans. We were able to overcome anything that was sent our way. We went from in-person workshops to online. This made it easier for the women to join from home and we were able to record the workshops for the women that were unable to attend. Nobody was left out. The pandemic caused us to cancel a few of our outing days for the safety of the women in the program and their communities, but the days that we did have together were absolutely amazing.
“It is shocking how challenging it is to bring a community of Indigenous women from different traditions together without support from programs like this,” says Anderson.
With spring upon us, and the closing of the ski resorts, we are now wrapping things up and looking to the summer programming. But we will take the lessons we learned from this winter to ensure a smooth summer season. We hope that next winter we will be able to have more days out in the snow together and maybe a few in-resort days with instructors to help those who want to get into the backcountry but whose skills might not be there quite yet.