Writes Sandy Ward:
Sandy is the Co-Founder of Indigenous Women Outdoors and Coach for a recent Intro to Mountain Biking Program that introduced a crew of Lil’wat and N’Quatqua women to mountain biking. Sandy shared with PORCA:
“I wasn’t always into biking; it took me a while to enjoy it actually. I was very lucky in that I had been gifted both a trail bike and a downhill bike. The hard part for me was the knowledge. I had so many friends that were amazing bikers, and I found it hard to find others that were newbs like me. I ended up pushing myself too hard too fast, leading to multiple injuries. Then came the mental block; post injury it would take me an entire year to get back to where I was. I now see why it is so important to have programs to introduce women to mountain biking. It gives them a chance to meet others of the same ability, so they can learn together at a safe speed. Being a part of Indigenous Women Outdoors has given me the opportunity to help other ladies get involved and learn safely. I’m now working on a program for Indigenous Life Sport Academy, so watch out for our youth on the trails around Pemberton this summer!” – Sandy Ward/ Lil’wat Nation
Post-script added Monday, 28 June at 10:23 am: Check out this great profile of Sandy in Canadian Geographic, where she shares a little more of her story and values:
The reason I really got into the outdoors was because of the First Nations Snowboard Team. I had wanted to snowboard but my parents couldn’t afford to get me through snow school or get me a snowboard. I ended up buying a snowboard with my first paycheck from my first job, and a friend taught me. I broke my wrist the first time, actually, but that didn’t stop me!
When I had been snowboarding for a year or two, I got a call from the First Nations Snowboard Team. They wanted to put together a group of Indigenous youth to work towards getting a First Nations person on the podium at the 2010 Olympics — so I went for it. I trained really hard and I met amazing people. It really got me into the mindset of being an outdoor recreationalist and athlete, so I branched out into other sports from that. I really do think that without the First Nations Snowboard Team, I wouldn’t be who I am right now.
On the importance of building up Indigenous women
Our culture was based on a matriarchy. The women were very important. They had very important roles within our communities, but with colonisation that changed completely to men being the main influences in our communities. With a lot of that, women were dehumanised, especially Indigenous women. We weren’t seen as people, so there was a lot of abuse.
We feel that together, as Indigenous women, we are very powerful. If we can lift each other up, hold each other up, then we have it in us, in our bloodline. We are very strong and we are very resilient. That’s why we have women, and people who identify as women, as the focus in our programming. We get asked this quite often as it’s seen as us only reaching out to half the population. But it’s because we need to, we need to influence these women to come into the roles they used to be. They need to be strong leaders because that’s what we were.
On futures anchored in Indigenous practice and belief
We gain so much knowledge through our stories, our histories and our ancestors on how to take care of the land. We know how to take care of our ecosystems. If that was to be combined with scientific knowledge, it would be unstoppable. We’d be taking care of this planet. We’d forever have our forests to recreate in, to gather our medicines and our foods. We have so much in our stories that has been passed down. In every story that I learn from my Nation there’s new things that I didn’t know before about our territories and the animals on it and how we can better serve them.
On things to look forward to for IWO
We hope that women who have been in previous programs jump in and mentor the next generation getting involved with IWO. For example, next year, all of the ladies from this year can come back and be paired up with a newcomer. They can then teach that newcomer what they learned, whether it’s avalanche training, or nutrition in the outdoors.
We hope to have a fully Indigenous crew. We would like to be able to train Indigenous women in roles we need so that we have fully Indigenous staff. We want to do more outdoor programming. For now, we’re focused on the backcountry in the winter and hiking in the summer, and we do a little bit of mountain biking, but cost is a barrier.
We also have the Indigenous Life Sports Academy (ILSA), which is a completely different program from IWO, but I feel like they mix together quite well. ILSA used to be the First Nations Snowboard Team, but they changed the name to be more inclusive of all the different sports. So many age out of ILSA and there’s nowhere for them to go to further their knowledge, and further that journey with the outdoors. Now we have women that are in IWO that came from ILSA, which is amazing.