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Born at the foot of some of the snowiest mountains in the world, located in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (the Squamish First Nation, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.), 26-year-old Myia Antone was raised in one of the crucibles of North American skiing. But for her, this wasn’t a ski destination; it was her ancestral territory, and the seat of her culture.
It wasn’t until attending the University of British Columbia, where she got an opportunity to learn to backcountry ski and fell in love with it, that she realized the traditions she was raised in could and should have a logical intersection with the snow-sliding world. After she graduated with a degree in environment and sustainability in 2019, she decided to marry her two passions—her heritage and backcountry skiing—by founding her organization, Indigenous Women Outdoors.
Antone’s mission is to help First Nations women get into the mountains via skis, bikes, hiking boots, and more. Through its programming, IWO offers lift tickets, gear, and instruction to participants for whom these are barriers to entry—as much as possible, for free, or at a heavily discounted rate. But what it provides, more than anything, is safe and purposeful meetups. Antone has also been integrating Indigenous languages into IWO’s events, honoring the native tongues spoken in the ancestral territories where they ski.
For her, unearthing Indigenous culture from generations of European settlement is part and parcel with being a skier. Floating through powder, particularly in the backcountry, represents a reconnection to the ground beneath her skis, and a kind of jubilation she wants other Indigenous women to discover.
I think it’s so important for everyone to get outside and try skiing and other sports they’ve never tried, and to be given an opportunity that a lot of other people inherently get. Especially in the world we’re living in right now, I think it’s important to celebrate Indigenous joy, and to not feel so heavy all the time.
My ancestors were traveling in those mountains before backcountry skiing was a thing. Backcountry skiing just allows me to get to those places a bit quicker. [My] ancestors were really smart, intelligent people, and if there was a tool that they created, or that was given to them, they’d use it. They would have used backcountry skiing if that was available to them.
The more time I spend outside, the more opportunity I get to speak and hear the Squamish language and understand where it comes from. There are so many pieces of our language that you can’t speak in other places. Our [words for] directions are all according to the ocean and our language really mimics the wind on our territory.
Especially when young Indigenous people hear us speak in our language, they feel more inspired to speak their own. When we’re outside skiing, we talk about the different words for snow and the ones in Squamish and [co-founder Sandy Ward’s] language [Lillooet], and the Métis words. Being a language teacher and speaker, I bring that piece into everything I do, and it allows more people to spark their curiosity, or start their own language journey.
We really try to make sure we’re holding space, and literal spots, in our programming for local Indigenous women. Part of that is to make sure there’s an opportunity to get out on their own traditional territory and re-occupy the land and water their ancestors occupied.
It’s so fun to watch someone, within a day, grow into a skier. It doesn’t even matter how good they were before, or if they’ve ever tried it before. By the end of the day people are exhausted, but they’re just so pumped on what they were able to accomplish.
There’s representation in seeing other people like you on the mountain, or seeing other people like you in the ads for the ski jacket that you’re buying.
As teachers and knowledge keepers, it would be really big to include Indigenous people in the backcountry industry. Especially up north, where the Dené and Gwich’in people have lived with snow for so long, and have always traveled safely on their territories.
When you get into backcountry skiing, you have to take an avalanche course, which is really important and everyone should do it. But there’s not enough Indigenous knowledge embedded in that course. We’re not represented in the language that’s spoken in those courses, or by the skiers.
Current backcountry courses are so expensive and very time-consuming, and you have to have so much experience to even get into them. So there’s a lot of those kinds of barriers to having Indigenous guides. That’s changing and it’s definitely going to take a while until we all feel completely welcomed into these courses and systems of knowledge.
I have a vision of reciprocity within IWO—helping people become guides and then allowing them to be guides for us. I would love to bring non-Indigenous people out with Indigenous people to learn from us and give back in that way. That’s what I’d love to see one day.
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