Elora Braden is a filmmaker and photographer in Golden, British Columbia. Her work amplifies stories of the heart and she tends to find herself on the tops of mountains or any outdoor space where there is an adventure to be had. Her passion lies in showcasing brands with the real life stories of those who use them.

Marie-Pierre Paradis-Claes, Editorial Content Manager, believes in the importance of protecting nature on a daily basis. She feels her best when she is outside in the mountains, participating in her favourite activities like downhill skiing and hiking. 

Words: Stéphanie Major, Altitude Sports writer

Myia Antone and the Reappropriation of the Squamish Territory

Marie-Pierre Paradis-Claes, Editorial Content Manager at Altitude Sports, spent a few days with Myia Antone, of the Squamish Nation, in the middle of the mountains of British Columbia. Between age-old rituals and ski touring, they discussed the place that First Nations people hold in the world of outdoor sports. The story of an adventure looking toward the future.

Snowflakes fall slowly around us. Covered in snow, the mountains and the trees blend into the horizon, in the middle of a picturesque landscape.

“Can you imagine how different it was before it became a resort?”

I look up at Myia, my travel companion for the weekend. I try to imagine a radically different world, where people are one with nature. A world where we tend to the earth. This is Squamish land after all, and their vision, different than anything I could have imagined before arriving, deserves to be shared.

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Vancouver, 9 AM.

I’ve come to see the Squamish Nation (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh in the original language). More precisely, I’m meeting with Myia Antone, a 26-year-old skier, Squamish language student and teacher, ambassador for The North Face, and the founder of Indigenous Women Outdoors (IWO), who will be my guide for the next few days. Together we’re setting off for the mountains, where she has spent her life and where her ancestors have lived for thousands of years. Through ski touring, she will show me her relationship with nature and the way she inspires her community to reclaim possession of the land.

The road from Vancouver to Squamish is dizzying. On the right there are steep cliffs and a cloud of evergreens while on the left there is an infinite blue horizon that plunges into the sea to the west. The air is crisp, and as my gaze drifts to the edge of the world I begin to breathe easier. I leave my nerves behind and prepare to meet the people that have lived here for thousands of years.

As I drive north, rolling along the Sea to Sky highway, nature takes over more and more. It’s here, in the heart of the mountains, that I finally meet Myia.

“Welcome to Sḵwx̱wú7mesh!” she tells me when I get out of the car. With a big smile and laughter in her eyes, she is the picture of peace and serenity. She immediately puts me at ease. I’m used to skiing on mountains in the east of the country, but now I’m facing real mountains, so high that they touch the sky.

We put on our ski suits, courtesy of The North Face, which sponsors Myia’s adventures. I look up at the summit and can just make out from the clouds that surround us. Soon, we will disappear into the woods.

Myia has only been ski touring for two years. She explains that the First Nations people are not known for doing outdoor activities, at least not in the way that we’re familiar with. Extreme sports and adrenaline… that’s not their idea of spending time in nature and often they simply don’t have the means to practice extreme activities. “I don’t want to use nature as a way to escape from my everyday life,” Myia confides as we climb the icy mountain. “On the contrary, my place, the place of my people, is here, everyday, on this land.”

She sees skiing as a way to reclaim the territory. “I wanted to create a safe space that’s conducive to learning where we can open up to the world while keeping our traditions alive,” she explains. This is where the idea for Indigenous Women Outdoors, a group that allows Indigenous womxn* to reconnect with nature through outdoor sports, all in an educational context, was born.

*The term “womxn” is used to include everyone who identifies as female, including transgender women, women of colour and non-binary individuals.

“Before going down we share our stories, those of our families and our ancestors,” Myia tells me. The initiative, supported by The North Face, gives communities the opportunity to discover their territory through activities they’ve often never tried before. The American brand also donates clothing and gear for the unpredictable weather.

IWO was created to combine tradition and modernity. Myia has taken a modern, western sport and infused it with the influence of her culture. The results aren’t what matter. Rather, taking the time to stop, listen, breathe and be aware of the sacred surroundings is what’s important. As I sit with her, outside the borders of Blackcomb, I understand the significance of her words. For Myia, her ancestors are still here. The earth and its living creatures, past and present, are all connected. “I whisper to myself in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim (the Squamish language) when I climb the mountain,” she explains. “It’s my way of reconnecting with my ancestors, of feeling that they are still here, in this land that we have always lived on.” Language is the soul of the community and for Myia, passing on the Squamish language is necessary for survival and healing.

The occupation of their own territory is essential as well. Through IWO, Myia decolonizes the outdoors by giving Indigenous womxn the opportunity to partake in sports. She firmly believes that they will be able to bring their ancestral knowledge to the industry and finally be part of the conversation.

It is with a heavy heart that I leave the mountains to return to Quebec. My experience with Myia makes me want to dream of a better, more open world where the voices of our ancestors join those of all who campaign for change. Fortunately, Indigenous Women Outdoors offers plenty of inspiration.

I hope that we will make a collective effort as consumers to recognize the land that we share and that these discussions will allow other Indigenous communities from across the country to thrive in the outdoors and experience the joy of sports.

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