I’ve been snowboarding for 23 years and have always been known as “the snowboarder” in my community. At first, I thought it was a great name to have. I felt like I was doing something special, something not many other Indigenous youth were doing. I also felt like an outsider, like I was doing something that Indigenous people shouldn’t be doing, it wasn’t a space for us. I received criticism from within my community and from outside my community, “more sama7 (white person) than native,” “you’ll never become a splitboard guide, that isn’t a space for you,” were just some of the comments that would come my way. Things needed to change.

With the start of the First Nations Snowboard Team (FNST), things did start to change. All of a sudden there were 15 of us ripping around Whistler Blackcomb. We felt like we were a part of something big and we were. A partnership between CASI, Whistler Blackcomb and the FNST sparked this change, we started to see Indigenous instructors and athletes popping up. These were great times, but they didn’t last. As I progressed in my riding, my support shrank… drastically. It came to the point that I could no longer afford my BC Freestyle team fees, I had to leave. I felt alone again.

Fast forward to the pandemic 12 years later, a shift was happening once again. Indigenous stories were on the rise, support was coming back, but this time it feels stronger. We have support for multiple sports now, it’s not just snowboarding. Today, Indigenous Life Sport Academy (ILSA) runs programs for snow, mountain bike, skateboarding and climbing. We have youth excelling in so many different sports now. We have programs for women through Indigenous Women Outdoors, where we create a safe, trauma informed space for Indigenous women to excel in the outdoor industry. With this we are starting to see women getting certified to become guides in a multitude of sports.


These are the opportunities that I never had growing up and I hope that another youth doesn’t have to go through the hardships that I did. Until we can run an entire program with full Indigenous staff, the work is not done.

By Sandy Ward, CASI Instructor & Evaluator

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Photo Credits:
IWO group shot: n/a
Green jacket in front of Parliament: Zoya Lynch @zoyalynch
2 riding shots: Kieran Brownie @brownie.likethefood
Portrait: Ben Girardi @bengirardi