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First native snowboard team making moves

Squamish and Lil’wat Nations building an Olympic snowboard legacy

Ten young snowboarders from the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations have formed a team that could potentially have more impact in this region for First Nations than any political initiative.

The team has secured funding from the Aboriginal Youth Sport Fund to support the first Canadian First Nations Snowboard Team, nicked-named the FN riders.

Five Lil’wat riders and five Squamish Nation riders are part of the team that was started by Squamish Nation administrator Aaron Marchant in July 2004.

Marchant’s goal is to work towards establishing a legacy for First Nations’ youth in sport and to get some of them pushing for Olympic spots on the Canadian team.

"Everyone seems to be enthusiastic about this program and I think it’s been a winner so far," said Marchant. "This was my idea but had I a lot of guidance from (Squamish) Chief Gibby Jacob, Steve Podborski and Todd Allison.

"And as far as I know this is the first time a First Nations team like this has been organized in B.C. or Canada… so it will be interesting to see where it goes."

Marchant said he got the funding for the team through the Olympic legacy agreements the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations established with the province.

"It is a part of the shared legacies between Squamish and Lil’wat Nations," he said.

"With these principles and goals in mind, the Nations, the (Olympic) bid corporation, and the province of British Columbia have agreed on a package of benefits and legacies related to the Games that recognize the important contribution being made by the Nations and that promote harmony, sharing, education, fairness and partnership."

While the team members are very keen, Marchant and team coach, Rad Carney, both stressed that they were still learning and the focus was not yet on competing.

"A bunch of them came in with fairly limited experience so we started out, quite honestly, teaching some of them how to make better turns," said Carney.

"Then on the other hand some kids came in being able to hit the biggest jumps in the parks and the biggest rails, so it was a big range of abilities.

"So we’re basically trying to introduce them to competition so they can see what it’s all about.

"The goal for this year was for them to compete in a rail competition, pipe competition, a slopestyle comp and a GS comp. Just some low key events to get them feeling out what it’s like and what they might want to do in the future. For the first year now… it’s about building them team skills."

Carney, who is a certified coach with the North Shore Snowboard Team, said there was opportunity to have the team expand and even multiply into other provinces, but for the moment he was simply trying to emphasize "fun".

"You don’t see too many First Nations kids in competitive snowboarding anyway (but that could change) yes, definitely."

Reuben Troy Bikadi, from Mount Currie, has six siblings who all snowboard and he is one of the more experienced riders in the FN Riders team.

Bikadi and the rest of the team train every Wednesday at Cypress Mountain and on the weekends in Whistler. He said the training had "really helped him improve."

During a training day in Whistler two weeks ago 18-year-old Bikadi hit all the jumps and rails in the Blackcomb park and was getting eight feet out of the Blackcomb superpipe.

"This is really the first time most of us have been part of a team so we encourage each other with a whole bunch of stuff," said Bikadi.

"We’re just learning, but Aaron (Marchant) has told us he wants to get all of us in the halfpipe competition for 2010… and that would be pretty good."

Despite the fact that the team is still learning about what it takes the World Ski and Snowboard Festival’s marketing manager, Mark Ross, said the marketing potential for a First Nations snowboard team was clearly "unifying" and "new".

"I would love to see a team like that competing, it would fantastic," said Ross. "My first reaction would be that I think it’s great and if they can keep it together they should have nothing but success.

"And it’s also exciting that we’ve got talent right here (in the Sea to Sky corridor) looking to be involved."