Hey everyone. Thank you for joining me on the BIPoC Outside Podcast. I'm Kris Cromwell. And today we're sitting down with Court Larabee. Court is the Founder and Executive Director of the Indigenous Life Sport Academy. ISLA. The Indigenous relations specialist for Whistler Blackcomb and himself, a multi-sport athlete.
So let's get into it.
Court. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Thank you very much for having me. We've been looking forward to doing this interview.
Awesome. Awesome. So have I, so you're in whistle now, but you grew up in Ontario. I want to ask a few questions about you first. How, what was your introduction to snow sports?
Certainly my introduction to snow, but snow sports was almost like a two-prong approach. I had six sisters, so I had a large demand to get out of the house and play. And then secondly, there was a school program that gave me the opportunity to try skiing and get onto the resort. Rentals and lessons.
So without, without that program, I would have never been able to afford to access the mountain.
Yeah, fair enough. So I know that you are still a huge snowboarder and as you mentioned to me previously now a skateboarder. So what is it that you look for when you, like, what feelings are you looking for when you're getting out into the sport?
certainly it's the reconnection to land is so important to our Indigenous culture. And for me personally, what drives me to the sports that I do. I, I tend to focus on unstructured sports and that's the focus of our non-profit as well, too. So sports, you don't need a team sports, you don't need a practice date.
You can just pick up your piece of equipment or whatever, whatever it is, and, you know, waste away your mental anguish and stresses of the day. So yeah, that's, that's kind of what led me into it.
Nice. And now you're you started off your career in Indigenous youth sport programming as a volunteer coach. And now you are the executive director of this national organization. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that journey?
Well, it's a fine product. Volunteering and volunteering and yeah, just filling demand. It's, there's, there's so much good that can be done within our space. And when I started off as a coach, I was like, wow, I really love this little group of youth that I get to guide around and be a mentor to. And then I.
Eventually led to running the program. And I was like, wow, I really liked this group of 50 kids. It's this is awesome. And then provincial and then national. And now it's, it's a large family that I care deeply for. We have networks of youth and mentors. We've started teams in Nova Scotia and Yukon and everywhere in between.
So we even have a little group in Washington state as well, too. So you can, you can, I guess you can classify as this international.
I did not know that you are international. Excuse me, from being wrong. That's fantastic.
No, that's okay. It's it's, we've been around now for 17 years. The original program was the First Nation Snowboard Team. So we, they were competition focused and our sponsors really just wanted to see metals. Highlight these few individuals, which is a great opportunity for these young leaders and to give them exposure.
But we noticed that our largest impact was the youth that weren't on the podium, the ones that just had an opportunity to play. And those are the ones that we had the largest social impact on.
And that's so meaningful. I, everybody loves metals, but really the differences you make in people's lives are really where the meaning comes from.
And maybe it's a controversial view, but I personally believe that these leaders that are excelling in sports and getting the top one or two and three in their nation or province, I've got a good understanding that those individuals would make it in life, regardless of the challenges just due to their own personal drive and talent.
Putting money and funding towards these individuals is great. But if we're really looking at, you know, change, that's a really stark contrast.
Yeah, no, and it's an important perspective. So that is the mission of the Indigenous Life Sport Academy. You would say to be driving social change.
absolutely it's driving social change.
by creating role models. And we. We bring in mentors into our, into our organization that, that kind of, even through unguided decisions and coaching styles are showing the youth that there's careers in the outdoor industry. There are support networks, there's families when you get into these different sports.
So there's, it's, it's a lot deeper and meaningful than, than even I realized when I started.
I know that ILSA takes a super holistic approach to its development of its young athletes and young outdoor enthusiasts. So tell me why that's important to you.
it's not only important to myself, but it's important to our Indigenous cultures to have a holistic approach because we understand that you can. Be a complete, you know, show up whole every single day. If you don't focus on your, your mental, your emotional, your spiritual and physical self, this, we have to take care of all of it.
And sometimes we tend to over-focus or under focused on certain aspects of it. So. We opened these discussions to our youth and let them know that, you know what, like it's, you're feeling a little tired today. Like, did you, did you happen to eat enough this morning? Is there something going on, do you want to talk about, or like, is there something that, you know, spiritually that you're looking or missing should do in your life?
And we try to connect, connect the dots with our youth and mentors to you.
know, ensure these youth are understanding that they can thrive once their whole.
And do, and you include a cultural programming element with your youth as well, right?
that's correct. Yeah, we have there's I hate to use the term because it's so outdated, but there's an Aboriginal coaching module that we use to all of our mentors to, to speak and use the words wisely. W we really hope that they change the name to the Indigenous coaching module soon for obvious region reasons.
But we won't get into that today. And I just believe, yeah, there's. We just tried to live live by it. And we do cultural training even for our resort partners. So we'll resort partners like Whistler Blackcomb are really engaged into trying to do better. So then we hold and teach them about the local.
Nations what to say, what not to say. What things that the community really highlight as a benefit, like recreation and so on and so forth. So it's it's Yeah.
Deep, deep, deep.
And an important, and that cultural context is, is really critical. Being an international organization, do you have slightly different approaches and different regions.
I've been blessed to be a part of several BIPoC committee committees all throughout our nation and internationally over the last year. And I was really surprised that we all have, well, maybe not surprised, but. I was interested to know that we all have a very similar aspect. It's we all realize that the focus is on building diversity and inclusion in our sports.
But the main thing is, is that if we don't have diversity and inclusion at the board or leadership level it's really like these businesses and communities are doing more lip service than community service and that messages through and through all of our communities. Yeah. we, you know, we have the highlight on us.
We know that there's a problem, but how are we actually going to make change? And that's, and that's something that a lot of our, we actually had a research student that raised a good fact where it was like, even like in the women's rights movement, we realized there was an issue, but there wasn't any major change until
maybe actually 10 years where they're like, they mandated that we must have women in roles of leadership, not just entry-level roles. So now this is our movement with the BIPoC movement to piggyback those successes. Well, ongoing successes. We're not saying that's a total success yet, but we want to see at least 30% representation with our BIPoC leaders and in boards because it's not just one person it's easy to tokenize one or two with an organization.
But it's understanding that as a individual on a board, I don't even feel comfortable to say my perspective fully until there's at least 30% of other people that are like-minded in the room.
Yeah. So it's more than marketing campaigns.
So you're programming you're in a number of specific locations and a lot of our listeners they're in fairly urban locations. And so what sort of advice would you give to youth? You know, who, who are interested in maybe want to try, but proximity becomes an issue.
You can reach out to organizations like ourselves. And we do have opportunities just, just to provide equipment like skateboarding's and things like if you're in an urban environment, skateboarding is such a blessing. The, the municipal governments in our areas and across our nation build skate parks specifically for these reasons and for urban youth to have an outlet
and the stigma that skate parks used to have back in the eighties and nineties of like the bad, bad place. And like where the, where you go to do any kind of dirty deed is long gone. And the reality has really shown that skate parks are a really beautiful place to build community, to have youth develop them themselves in a social and personal aspect.
And it's. Actually a really beautiful place to see things bloom.
I agree. And I remember the stigma of, of I was in high school in the nineties and, you know, stay away from the skate park.
And also the art and I, when you were doing your fundraising auction, this last season, so many brilliant ways to blend snow sports and skateboarding and art. And you see that in skateboard, skate parks a lot with a lot of the urban art, you get to see a lot of what the what's topical in the minds of the kids.
Do you wanna talk to me about some of the artists you collaborate?
well, we, we were really fortunate in our last skateboard art fundraiser that we're going to be doing every single year on summer solstice, which is June 21st. But it's, we, we have this large network of people who understand that either they've been. Saved by skateboarding or snowboarding personally.
Or they've, they've known someone directly in their family that has experienced that. So it was an easy collaboration of finding artists that wanted to help. And recently we, what we did is sent out boards and then we said, listen, it's whatever your heart says, whatever means to you bring it back.
And the theme was really. Seeing everyone's expression and being expressive is what's really important about these sports, especially to Indigenous kids. Because if you feel like you're a little bit hidden from society or shunned by society or all these people have unconscious biases against you to be expressive in a form of something that's. About your skin or who you are, is an incredibly powerful thing. So that message and the reality of that, everyone's so unique because what through and through came, came through with that project.
Some really some really beautiful work in the in the project. I don't know if the pieces that that were awarded are still online, but for any of our listeners, I would recommend that you go and take a look at some incredible artwork and look forward to summer solstice next year, taking a look again to select some art pieces because it will blow your mind.
So for little kids or even older kids coming out for their first time with you, what what's their first day look like? What can they expect?
First of all, they like, they, when they show up, they see leaders that look like them. They, they have, there's a like-minded connection right off the bat with people That they can relate to. And. That's that's new in our industry, which is great. So they show up, we ensure that we always do safety is our number one thing with the youth and making sure that they're, they're in a comfortable and safe space, not only to feel okay, but to thrive.
And then, then we basically kick it off. We have we keep the day running with a lot of progressive and. Important techniques that we teach them to keep them safe, but all most importantly, to have fun. So we kick off the day. We have lots of exercise and at the end of the day, everyone arrives back with big smiles on their faces.
And then we have a moment of reflection where we ask them, like, what was good for you? What was, what was maybe something that you didn't like and just opening up the floor. To let them know that we value them and their opinions and to, to simply just teach them that being reflective in their own homes and when their own lives is really valuable
that is really valuable and it gives you a valuable, like constant feedback loop.
that's why we know we've always been on track with knowing that we're doing good because we see it in the youth. And then when they go home and their parents see it and their grandparents see it, and it's, it's, it's really, it's really a special feeling within Indigenous culture. There's nothing more important to us right now than to see our grandparents proud and happy of the things that the kids are doing because. Like it or not. The reality is that not a lot of our grandparents got to play due to the residential school systems. It's like be happy to smile to play was, was, was not something that my grandparents got to experience. So the greatest thing to, to give our elders before they move on and look, look over us is to see the kids play.
Yeah, it's been really topical lately. And a lot of people are talking about the TRC and, you know, advising people from outside of the Indigenous community to go back and review the TRC is as opposed to expecting Indigenous members of our community to put on the emotional labor of explaining Something, you know, we study at faculty that I'm currently in and there are three actions in there that are specifically about reconciliation and sport.
88, 89 and 90. And so if, if an industry member, whether it's a resort partner or an outdoor industry, organization came to you and said, you know, what recommendations would you give to us? If we were looking to make good on these actions in our business, what sort of advice would you give?
I would review a companies or municipalities or any form of local governments, directives. If your main strategies within your. Next five-year ten-year plan. Don't align with any of the TRC calls to action. That's a stark, that's a stark contrast that you're moving further away from reconciliation then then you, then maybe you're trying, you know, maybe you're trying to be closer, but the actions will be further away from the, from the get point from the starting point.
And then even after the calls of TRC I think everyone should know. Just reflecting on the fact that how do your actions really serve the next seven generations? And those teachings come directly from my from my culture and other cultures. My culture being the Anishinaabe Nation located in Northwestern, Ontario, but these are this questions and things that help us reflect on these moments.
And if you say, how, how do these decisions reflect the TRC calls to action? Over. And how does that affect over this next seven generations?
I like that again, a holistic approach, not just looking at those three actions, but the, all of the calls to actions over. I think that that's really important. Kind of switching directions a little bit. What does the future look like for ISLA?
Well, goodness. Hopefully it means more help for me. We've had such, such exponential growth lately from going from snowboard programs to skateboard programs, to rock climbing club programs, to hiking program. I'm sure I'm forgetting programs. Like that's, that's the point where we're getting that now. So we just continue. We want to continue our growth and really focus on the, sea to sky corridor, where we currently are.
Hyper-focusing our new programs. And then. Adding more programs like next year, we're going to be leading into golf programs. We have another young Indigenous lady who wants to run horseback archery classes and really cool things like that. So, And then there's surfing. There's, there's so many things that we can get into within our local area that we're still not taking advantage of.
So we're making a call out to leaders who want to come and help in these different new sports or organizations and businesses that offer these activities. Please reach out. There's a lot of different in kind and really beneficial relationships we can build.
It sort of feels like you've done a lot of building through partnerships.
Is that how the approach to the business model.
That's exactly it. Partnerships are everything to us. Like we're a nonprofit. And since we're not like a big charitable organization, we don't have these big corporations giving us tax or whatever their tax savings slips basically is what they're looking for. And So we really just rely on community to, to support us and to understand our goals.
It's a little bit of a different focus. We, it, and we have to try a little bit harder than the average, Joe.
So being that you you've been at this now First Nation Snowboard Team started in 2003, correct?
Yeah. And I joined, I joined the ranks in 2005,
all melting it's all melting together.
So, but I mean, you've been doing this for quite some time. What you know, for some of our listeners who are thinking of starting their own small groups in their local area, what sort of advice would you give them towards to building and developing these partnerships?
Develop authentic relationships with the First Nations or the Métis or the Inuit communities that you're working in. And. find and foster growth from within those communities. Even if you have to run a program and use your own instructors for the first year, if you're not actively selecting youth or adults out of that program to train and to be leaders for the following year
You're missing an opportunity.
And if these, if any listeners out there want any help or they want ILSA to To steamroll a program into their area for them than we are. We're certainly there to help as well.
Excellent. That's what I was hoping you would say.
I know that's what you hear me go. Oh, I got too much work, but I'm always like, we're always still here to help just you help us. We help you.
You talk about developing that next generation and that's what you guys have ultimately done. You have second generation participants in your program
we have, we have third generation participants. Now we have grandparents that are on the hill with their grandkids and it's unbelieving. And that's not just a one-off opportunity. We have multiple scenarios where we have active grandparents on the snowboarding ski hill with their grandkids, like things that you wouldn't expect, but we have it.
So look, we have three generations of active ILSA members.
That's amazing. So what are you seeing with the next generation in terms of like innovation in the sport?
I don't know Tiktoks, but honestly, it's, it's people it's it's there everyone's, I can see a movement away from the, the facade of con competition sports. Like when, when sports got canceled during COVID for the first part of it, people realized like, oh, Why are we holding these people in teams up on a pedestal? It's doesn't really make much sense anyways, my 2 cents and there's as well, apparently.
well, I think we saw a lot during COVID people started to get pretty innovative about how they got outside.
Yeah. And then sports like skateboarding have absolutely blown up into the sense where they ran out of equipment last year. And it was so hard to find basic pieces of equipment.
There was a run on skis. You couldn't buy skis in Alberta and you couldn't buy back country skis. And I know that was true. It's true in a lot of different regions which brings me back to it's interesting too. Get out and try new things and to find new ways to get outside. But that safety element, as you said, so critical I think that's why organizations such as your own, that are teaching people how to safely access these new spaces are so important.
So what, what advice would you give to folks who want to strike out on their own.
Be safe. No, no, no. Where you're going, you can rely, there's a lot of beautiful technology out there. That's available. Like for instance, if I'm heading out into the back country, I'm fairly new myself. I was just freshly trained in my avalanche safety training level one just last year, but if I'm heading out bring a friend, bring technology for safety.
Like the new Garmin inReach systems are just a godsend in the back country. Peace of mind, and just train yourself and train yourself as much as possible. I thought I knew a little bit about. Back country and back country safety prior to getting into it for snowboarding for over twenty-five years.
But I really knew nothing. So
I don't think you ever finished learning about how to be in the mountains.
Yeah. It's, it's a life. It's a lifelong easy dedication.
I was speaking with the one of the co-founders of the Native Olympic Team F oundation in the United States. And she had such positive things to say about your programming, your program. And they were looking to possibly leverage lessons learned.
She said from Canada. And I thought that was really interesting. And so do you think that there are lessons learned either between the outdoor industry or, or sport in general that could be leveraged from back and forth across the border.
I am. And we're, we're honored to first that here that she's, she's mentioned us in such, such nice light, but I totally believe that there is it's. We have a little bit of a progressive movements, not only on. Indigenous rights and titles when it comes to land and opportunities that belonged to the First Nations, but also we've, we've been in the news and we've been celebrated throughout media.
And this is something that is just coming into their communities in recent years. So. We've might've been the, we might've been for some of the youth in their areas. The first time they saw like minded people or like, you know, like version people within their sports organization. So that's really wonderful to hear because when I grew up, I didn't see it.
So I'm glad that we're finally the things that we never had in our personal lives.
Mm. Hmm. So in the sea to sky corridor, it, it feels like there is quite a bit of acceptance and quite a bit of willingness to learn and to listen from the local Indigenous populations. What are the, what can you describe any of the initiatives that are currently going on to create better partnerships, to create better understanding.
There's a lot of beautiful things that are happening in the background, in the forefront. Right. Some things to highlight are the boost and recreation opportunities. Letting the kids play has been really beneficial to, to, to both, to all communities. Secondly developing co-interest business opportunities with the First Nations and having a system where everyone thrives and benefits.
Not only in an in-kind purpose, but to create monetary gain for both sides is something that's really beautiful because a lot of people think that, okay, we only have a certain section of pie. Why would we give them? Well, they really don't understand.
that if you add this whole demographic and perspective that your pie is going to be so much fricken bigger, and everyone really thrives in that scenario.
And that's what people are realizing here in the sea to sky, because people are a little bit hesitant. They're like, oh, maybe let's not partner because I don't want to lose what is on my table. And then they realize what they need to realize is the table can be so much
Yeah, absolutely. And, and that's proven out by the census that came out in Canada last year, the census that just came out in the United States Black and Indigenous populations are growing exponentially, particularly in the Rocky mountain regions.
Yeah. And it's, and that's like on a side note too, like not to like to bring in. Dark realities, but. It's not really dark. It seems dark to the Western world and the settled world. But if you're sitting on unseeded land right now and you're operating without consultation or even awareness of your local First Nations, you're going to have a, a stark reality check with incoming years.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And, even before those coming years happened, I think that there is a moral imperative and a consequence of not, you know, acting like a good corporate citizen by recognizing the people whose lands you're operating on.
Absolutely respect goes a long ways. And so we support just everyone growing together and no one being left behind. So.
Yeah. And you, you're saying that you have good partnerships within Whistler Blackcomb, they're recognizing and responding in ways that you are happy with.
Very much. So, the, the resort partners that we have across the board with their Whistler Blackcomb Cypress mountain Grouse mountain Seymour mountain, Mount Washington, Sasquatch. Resort Baldface lodge Whitewater resort. These are all amazing partners and I were giving you my story if I left out any of our media partners there, but I get you.
That's okay. Well, w w we'll I'll add them in the show notes. You can double check my show notes and make sure that we got everybody.
Yeah. It's not only just the resort partners, but then we also have really nice and understanding corporate partners. There's a company called Evo that does retail sales for skateboarding and snowboarding. And they have signed on for a full four year deal with us to support us and a lot of our operating costs over the next now going on to the next three years.
So we're really, really happy that we are able to partner with this company. It's the little things like that, that just keep us going.
Amazing and what companies need to realize. Doing this generates customers for them for life.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's, it's, it's meaningful. It's not lip service. Like we were discussing before.
Yeah. I know that I have been a one brand skier my entire life. And it's because my dad had a positive experience with that brand.
That's how it goes. It's I support a specific brand.
called Lib Tech because they, once upon a time, when we were a tiny little company, they just mailed us 50 boards. Right. We believe in you have 50 snowboards and. First of all delivery man was not as happy as I was to see them. But if you, especially if my two flights of stairs that you had to walk up and down, but anyways, the youth were stoked.
I'm a lifelong supporter of Lib Tech and Mervin manufacturing. They also make GNU snowboards and Roxy snowboards, and even make skis, I believe pardon my language. they're called narrow a$$ snowboards,
Do you think that the younger generation still has the skiers versus boarders? The fun that our generation has.
That, that rivalry is kind of lost. Because now skiers can do some pretty cool things that we can't deny anymore. I'll be honest. We do open call-outs to both sides every single year in this local area to, Hey, comes, come ski. We have, an Olympian that has,
volunteered to help us.
Anytime we want Michael Janyk and we have two kids out of hundreds that stick up their hand and say, Hey, I want to be a skier. So the, the, the new generation of spoken and. It's not out of a lack of trying. It's not a lack of having world-class trainers. It's snowboarding's a little bit more expressive.
You'll you'll find artists. You'll find musicians tend to lean towards snowboarding. If you happen to be an awesome accounting, bro, who loves being stuck in a box, you might find yourself on skis.
Right in the heart, man.
So our rivalry, you can hear still in my voice.
I try to snowboard once, cause I lost a football bet and it did not go well for me.
That's how I skied. I can no longer turn. Right? So I'm a one directional Turner.
To each their own, although our little group is primarily snowboarders.
No. That's good to hear
Yeah. Anybody's have split boards now, so you can keep up.
exactly. Yep. I'm really happy that this splitboarding is now a thing and it's, I'd rather uphill, ski than downhill that's for sure.
Well, I do get uphill. I much prefer the downhill
some more about you. What is a bucket-list objective for you on the board?
I don't know, 22 off, it's gotta be almost 30 years now. I keep on saying like 20 something years of snowboarding, but I've been saying that for almost a decade. So probably should I take my update? My file. I'd like to, I think, I think personally, I don't want to, I want to get up in the. And try like Helli boarding or, or cat boarding, because I still haven't been able to experience that.
So if any operators are out there wanting to hook up a brother with an invite,
listeners pay attention. We got somebody who wants to get on your helicopters.
just got this people with helicopters.
out there. So we're broad stroke.
I haven't been as much as I would like to be. Amazing. There are a lot of objectives that I would like that I would love to do in my heart. I know that my body is not prepared for it.
Either way I might get it'll be a one-time experience, but it has to be.
As long as you, you know, you can be the best once and that's good enough.
Well, we also have a motto on our team. That's really valuable for all our listeners to listen to hear is that if you're not falling, you're not learning. And that's something that we teach all the kids right off the bat too. It's like how to fall safely. And then most importantly, how to get up and keep on going.
Yeah. Yeah. I think that goes back to speaking a little bit to how you were saying maybe we don't need to be so focused on the competitive end of the sport.
because competition you're like, oh my God, I can't fall. And was like, no, no, I'd rather seeing you out there doing scorpions and cartwheels I'm in a safe and awesome fashion because you're going to take that skill into your life, into your personal life. When you come up. Something like a scary job application that you're like, oh, I could never do this.
Whatever you'll realize soon enough that if you just try, we'll be really surprised when we break that step down into manageable mental and emotional and all these different steps in order to, to build success. You'll, you'll come across a lot more wins.
Absolutely. So you're not just building young athletes. You're, you're building young folks who are going to succeed
That's it. So we're not, we're, we're S we're a lot deeper than our, our little sports program than we have
your sports program. Isn't so little anymore, though.
another thing to update with my language, but they've got to downsize in order to survive.
Going into this as we get towards the end here, a couple more questions going into this year. I know every one who's doing any sort of sports program is having to be like super flexible and reflexive as restrictions come and go. Are you seeing any concerns
absolutely. the so-called pandemic hasn't, hasn't stopped for us since there's a lot of wavering untrust, as well as understanding that the public and the youth have to be remain safe at all times. It's, it's been a primary focus and that focus is probably not going to change for quite some time.
So we're going to do our best as our organization. Not only make our youth feel safe, but to keep them safe and to also give them the tools to be critical thinkers in this time of need
Excellent. Yeah, we're not going very far this year either. We'll be, you'll find us at sunshine, but maybe when the next time I get out that way, I'll come by for a high five.
you you're most certainly welcome.
So before we Before we go. I want to ask, tell our listeners one last time. How do they find you? Where do we go online to support you to social media? What, where are your channels? Where are you active?
Well, I think the best way to stay in touch with our crew is to follow us on Instagram. We have our tag is Ilsa crew. I L S A crew and we also have a website called at life sport, canada.org, and just hit us up. There's so many different ways to support from providing in kind services. We have.
Huge huge demand for personal and public donations. We have a new grant writer that's on our team. We didn't plan to have her. She's an awesome benefit to our program, but it costs fricken money to keep her going. There will be ROI. We know that, but it's in there in our world of writing grants. It's actually incredibly hard to write for operational and wage costs for our people that are already been hired.
So. People who run our world understands. And for those who don't, we, we really, really rely on donations from our local community to keep us going. We're doing good. We've been doing good. We've we're proven. And just help us grow.
Amazing. And to our listeners, all of that information will be available in the show notes. Court I want to thank you so much for the gift of your time today. This was really great. Thank you so much.
You're very welcome. And please reach out if you guys have any more questions or want to develop programs within your own area. So we're always around.
That is it for another episode. Thank you everyone for listening. Links on where to find the Indigenous Life Sport Academy are available on the show notes at bipocoutside.com I hope you've enjoyed this conversation as much as I did having it. And if you did. Don't hesitate to smash the like button we'll be taking a two week break over the holidays, but we hope to see you all back in 2022 for another episode of BIPoC Outside.