Sun Peaks Resort, BC
The winter hit early and the snow at the top of the mountain is already a metre deep. There’s a stiff wind that rocks our seat on the chair lift and the bracing cold feels more like January than the last day of November.
Here in the Interior mountains, a mere 45 minutes from our home, the slopes are crowded with early season skiers and we’re almost giddy with the joy of being freed from our workaday lives to be here too.
We love skiing. We came to it relatively late, both of us 50 years old four seasons ago, and we’ve been regulars here ever since. For me, an eastern transplant, I never thought much about the sport, always considered it an elitist thing for the nouveau riche and moneyed. Now, I’m neither of those things but I’m a committed ski bum nonetheless.
It’s never been much of an Indian thing to do. My Ojibway people live in a traditional territory that holds some of the most vertiginous hills in northern Ontario, but sliding down them with a narrow piece of wood strapped to the feet never occurred to them. Sure, toboggan is an Ojibway word, but its invention had more to do with transporting loads of furs through the trees than carving deep powder. Snowshoeing is a traditional thing to do but there’s a lot less speed and fashion sense to it.
So sometimes it seems a bit of a cultural anomaly for me. I don’t see a lot of brown faces when I’m out here. Well, there are Japanese and other Asian people but the native representation on the ski slopes is noticeably low. Too bad, because it’s such a tremendous way to connect to the land. When I stop and lean on my poles and look around myself I am always awed by the sheer magnificence of the landscape and I feel like I do when I’m in the bush. Connected. Spiritual. Grounded.
I suppose there’s a political reason. Sometimes it seems that there’s a political reason for not doing a lot of things when you’re a native person in this country. There’s a land claim action over this resort and a lot of simmering anger of its continued existence on someone’s traditional lands. But that’s still in front of the courts and there’s a hazy basis to the claim anyway that I glean from my reading. A couple years ago there were road blockades and such but nowadays it’s just there in the background.
It’s not enough to stop me from skiing here. As much as I endorse most native political actions I still have a right to my own joy. Everyone does. It seems senseless to me and hugely counterproductive when you’re trying to build a relationship with Canada, to ask people to forgo enjoyment and comfort in pursuit of your ideals. Far better to communicate and clarify than disrupt and distance.
If I were to stop skiing Sun Peaks because it was the politically correct native thing to do I would be less joyful. My life as a native person in Canada would have five months of discontent that I caused myself to have. I would miss the spiritual connection I find here, I would be less emotive, my mental faculties would dull and I would fall into worse and worse physical shape without the regular exercise every winter. Holistically, taking the four directions of the Medicine Wheel into consideration, it seems like a dumb idea.
Further, my ability to communicate with people would be lessened to an incredible degree. When you are the deliberate manufacturer of your own misery you become reticent and terse and loathe to talk about things. I learned that when I was a practising drunk and creating my own misery every day. To exchange a few hours of contentment for a politically correct native stance seems like a Manhattan Island for a handful of beads and a blanket sort of deal all over again.
No, as much as I choose to be an active political native person, there’s a time to be pro-active and a time to relax and enjoy the benefits of being a Canadian. There has to be. We work way too hard to allow our lives to be dictated by what’s Indian and what’s not. At least I know I do. Besides, what I do can’t ever change what I was born to be and skiing doesn’t make me less native. Choice is a big teaching in native culture and we need to remind ourselves of that.
So for now, land claim or no land claim, politically correct or not, I choose to do what I love and what brings me joy. I’m a better Indian for it. I’m a better human being.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, RaggedCompany, is out from Doubleday. He can be reached at