Spirit of welcoming unveiled at Okanagan nordic centre

The official unveiling of the dual language signs at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre.

Spirit North’s Kevin Dunn helps Bella Armstrong with her ski boots. Mark Brett/Western News

nsyilxcn spoken here.

Not quite, but it is a start at least as about 100 dual language signs, English and nsyilxcn (Sylix/Okanagan Nation language), now mark the 30 trails that criss-cross Nickel Plate Nordic Centre just west of Apex Mountain Resort.

Nearly 35 students and teachers from the Penticton Indian Band (PIB) Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School, West Bench Elementary School and PIB elders and Spirit North representatives celebrated the collaborative effort at a special sign unveiling ceremony Monday.

Student Jordan Ray of Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School with one of the new dual language signs unveilved Monday at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre.
Mark Brett/Western News

For the first time last season, Nickel Plate and two other B.C. nordic venues hosted the Alberta-based Spirit North pilot cross country ski (and snowshoeing) programming for Indigenous youth. For months now PIB knowledge keeper Richard Armstrong and others worked on the translation of the English names for the routes that go by Midnight Sun, Evening Star, Hidden Mystery and others.

“Monday marked a new project for us,” said Spirit North founder and CEO Beckie Scott, a two-time, Olympic cross-country skiing medalist.

“This is something that we haven’t embarked on before but it really fits within the mandate of providing opportunities for Indigenous communities to feel welcomed and embraced by the sport community.

“I think historically, the sporting community hasn’t done a very good job of opening the door to everyone and ensuring that all members of our society have the same access, the same ability to benefit from the tremendous opportunities that sport and recreation provide, so this is opening the door a little bit wider.”

Related: Dual language sign unveiling Monday at Okanagan nordic centre

The unveiling had special meaning to PIB member Levi Bent, who took up cross country skiing last year after his son Leroi, a Grade 5 student at Outma, became involved with the Spirit North program.

“It looks good, it feels good,” said Levi standing tall on his skis Monday with his boy beside him.

“We come up here and it’s a family thing and it’s nice that the language is recognized, that this is our territory, to see the language on the signs is really nice.”

Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School student Leroi Bent at the Spirit North sign unveiling Monday at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre.
Mark Brett/Western News

Leroi, 10, agreed: “I think it’s important to have the signs in the language because people can learn the language and get into it more because it’s kind of dying. Without the language it’s nothing.”

Elder Rose Caldwell, the Penticton School District Indigenous language teacher, gave the blessing Monday and performed the traditional smudging (cleansing) ceremony.

“It’s important for them (children) to see the language when they’re out in the wilderness and a lot of them take language lessons so they’ll be able to understand what those names are, or pronounce them anyways,” said Caldwell, whose granddaughter Bella Armstrong, a Grade 4 student at West Bench, is also part of the program. “I think it is absolutely welcoming for them and it’s good for the land as well, it’s good for them to be out in the fresh air and in the mountains.

“It’s good medicine.”

And according to Perianne Jones, Spirt North community outreach leader who taught the kids last season at Nickel Plate, the signs are also very important for the non-Indigenous people who enjoy what Nickel Plate has to offer.

“I think for everyone else that comes up here it’s a good reminder that we are on traditional land and we’re really lucky to be able to use it and share it,” said Jones, also former Olympic cross country ski team member. “So having signs up is a good reminder and hopefully some of us gain some appreciation for that.”

Related: Sharing the voices of the mountains with Spirit North

Spirit North is currently in catch up mode after receiving late word of funding from the federal government but according to Scott all is going well.

Rose Caldwell, elder and language instructor for School District 67 performs the smudging ceremony at the dual language sign unveiling Monday at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre.
Mark Brett/Western News

The program is now expanding into other parts of B.C. including West Bank First Nations and two other provinces reaching an estimated 8,000 Indigenous kids and their families.

“It’s been a lot of work and a lot of heavy lifting but so worth it,” said Scott. “So many of the new communities that we’re coming into this year are so thrilled and beyond excited to start programs and we share their excitement.”

The official on-snow start of the Spirit North ski program at Nickel Plate begins next week.


 

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Spirit North kids practice their “helicopter” recovery method. Mark Brett/Western News

Kevin Dunn, Spirit North community outreach leader leads students in their warm up. Mark Brett/Western News

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