S1 E4 Sandy Ward - Holding Space for Women


Hey everyone. Welcome back. And thank you for joining me for another episode of the BIPoC Outside podcast. I'm Kris Cromwell. And today we're sitting down with Sandy Ward. Sandy is a professional snowboarder back country, mentor professional coach and instructor. So let's get into it. Shall we? Sandy. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?


I'm great. How are you?


I'm really good. I'm really good. Thanks again for for coming in. Let's get right into it. You've been snowboarding now for over 20 years. In a lot of different disciplines, competitive half-pipe you're instructing or back country border.

What was your introduction? Snow sports.


It was, I guess, just growing up close to Whistler, it was just natural for me to kind of get into the sport and, you know, I'd walk through Whistler village and see the snowboard instructors and I was like, I'm going to be like that. So it was basically my first job. Which I took my first ever paycheck and I bought my first snowboard.

And from there it just kinda took off. I actually broke my wrist the first day I went out and yeah, I was back up a week later with a cast and a lot of disapproval from my mom, but I kept going cause I just, I loved it so so much. And then I joined the First Nations Snowboard Team and my career just kinda took off.


Right on. So your Whistler still your home.




Nice. And, and this has taken you all over the word world. You've worked as a guide or an instructor in Japan and France in the Southern hemisphere. What, where has been your favorite place? What's been your favorite adventure


well, I, I feel most connected to the outdoors in my home community. Like when I go up the, the Duffy Nlháxten in a, in my language, that is where I feel the most at home and the most connected to my land, the culture and everything. But as far as the best snowboarding was Japan, for sure. the power there and the people I get, it was just such an amazing experience to spend a winter out there


and that what's been your best day on snow. Do you think


Oh, that is, that's an impossible question. They're all so good. That you can't get to a top of a mountain and be upset. it's you're always happy up there.


it's true? I totally agree with you. And a lot of people say that they're like, I can't pick a good day. They're all good days. So you're, you're instructing now, including with the First Nation Snowboard Team. Who's now a member under the ISLA umbrella. What's it like to be developing the next generation where you got your start


yeah, Indigenous Life Sport Academy. They've been absolutely amazing from, you know, getting me set up with probably one of the better snowboards of my, in the beginning of my career and giving me the opportunity to get the. Canadian association is snowboard instructors. Level one is, has been really good.

And then going and teaching the next generation and seeing them go from, you know, nine years old, all the way up until some of them are 30 now. And I can't believe I'm like, I feel so old now, but it's been so cool to see them grow up through snowboarding and learning so much about the outdoors, just through Indigenous Life Sport Academy or formerly known as the First Nation Snowboard Team.


Yeah. When you're teaching what's, what's sort of your coaching philosophy, what's your approach to teaching little people, young people, how to snowboard.


It's just about fun. Getting them out there. If, if they're not having a good time, they don't want to come back. So it's not necessarily about learning And trying to become a professional snowboarder and it's more just out getting outside, having fun. And talking with each other, like when I was on the first Nations snowboard team as a youth, some of my fondest memories were the car rides to and from the mountain and or to from competition where I would hear stories of my culture, of our history, of the Stein valley and all of our territories.

And that was coming from the kids. That was amazing to me and I look back on it and I'm like, I'm sure that that's still happening with the kids when they're on the school bus out to Whistler Blackcomb. So I think, yeah.


right on what are some of the what's some of the progression you've seen in the sport over the years?


I've found it's had its ups and downs. For sure. Like when I first started, it was so hard to find role models that look like me, or even just positive role models. And now that I look at it and these companies are starting to. They increase their BIPoC presence, get more BIPoC people on their ambassador teams.

And, and it's not necessarily about being the best snowboarder anymore. It's about people that are having fun and real people watching real people. And I think that's absolutely amazing. And I really wish that I had that growing up because in my early years?

it was all about competition and being the best.

And in that, that puts a lot of stress on the kids. And I find that the new Indigenous Life Sport Academy philosophy is less about contest and more about just getting out and having fun. And I really love it.


Yeah. Yeah. I think that's so important. A lot of our listeners are brand new to boarding, brand new to skiing, and some of them haven't even tried it yet. They've just, you know, they've seen cool videos, they think, wow. Maybe I want to try that. What advice do you have for the young folk? Just starting out.


It's always lessons. I realized that, you know, snow sports are already so expensive to get into, but it's about your safety and the safety of those around you on the ski runs. And also like when you take a lesson, you. You start to meet people that are at the same level as you, and it keeps you in your comfort zone.

So you're not trying to learn too fast, which can cause accidents to happen and injuries to happen. So I've seen so many times where friends try to teach friends or worse, boyfriend's teaching girlfriends or vice versa, and it's just done nightmare. And so my boss at snow school always says where the relationship savers.

So you send your significant other to, to learn and it's yeah, it's just a, it's a more fun environment that you're put into. Yeah.


Yeah, don't don't have your significant other teaching you how to sport.


That's how I got my start, but I broke my wrist on the first day. And that was probably avoidable if I had stayed on the bunny hill and taken a lesson, but I had my friend teach me and she brought me to the top of Whistler mountain and just basically said, okay I'm going to do some turns and just, just watch and do what I do.

And that was, that was my lesson.


Oh, my God. Like here's one of the biggest, the tallest ski resorts in north America point and shoot.


Yeah, that was it. But I did make it all the way down to Whistler village that day.




pretty impressive. And then we went out Blackcomb and that's where the accident happened.


So in addition to coaching at ISLA, you're also a partner with Indigenous Women's Outdoors, which is a, which has a mission to hold space for Indigenous women to come together and feel safe on the land. So tell, tell us about your work.


So I, I started out, it actually started with a Facebook post of Maya, Anton, the founder of Indigenous Women Outdoors. And she was looking for other Indigenous women that were into back-country skiing and snowboarding. So naturally I got tagged in that and. We just, we had a meeting, we hit it off and decided to go at the back country programs together and organize everything together last year.

And we had an amazing turnout. We thought that we were going to have like minimal applicants and it turned into, we had like 40 and we had to narrow that down to six. So we had a cohort of six women last year and they all received their AST one. And I think there were three of us that went for the AST two.

So the avalanche skills training one and level two. And that was the the biggest thing as soon as. I got out to the AST one the first day. And with those ladies, I was like, this is it. We've, we've done it. We've accomplished what we set out to do. And that was just such an amazing feeling. And it kind of like skyrocketed from there.

We, we ended up getting so much recognition for what we were doing. That was amazing, but none of it was. Like like, it was just crazy being out there with these ladies and hearing the stories and their experiences while we were skinning up the mountain together, the like, you know, the trauma that comes out and we all are there and healing together

and that was the most spectacular thing about last year. And right then I realized how important programs like this. And now we're branching out. We're not just back country skiing. We're getting into snowshoeing. We did a hiking mentorship program this summer. We did some mountain biking and next year we want to increase the numbers that we can get out there.

And this is, it's such a great feeling to be out there with these women.


Incredible. And this was not just recreation. Like this is a really creative way for Indigenous women to claim space on their own land.


Yeah, for sure. I it's like being out in the winter is hard in general you know. Winter is kind of the time where we go indoors and it's time for ceremony and we don't like go out on the land very much, but the land is so beautiful year round. So getting out and being a group of Indigenous women together, out in the winter on top of a mountain and seeing our territories, sharing our stories, I've learned so much this past winter about my own territory and the, the traditional names and the stories that go behind those names.

And it just, it feels like. You're walking in the footsteps of our ancestors and it is just so much better connection to the land.

than I ever thought I could achieve. So I love it.


Why do you think it's important to just have women's centered spaces in the.


This is a question that comes up a lot, and it really comes down to the, the outdoor industry. Has traditionally been focused on males, you know, the best of the best, or they always spotlight males, the men in the industry. And so we don't have a lot of like female representation. So to have women come together, it, it really.

It really brings out that supportive community. And it's not so much like a competition to be the best it's let's get out and support each other and lift each other up in this amazing space outside. And I've really noticed that in the.

programming that we've had with Indigenous Women Outdoors, that it's just more of a welcoming.

Environment, I guess. And you know, eventually when representation from both genders is equal, then maybe we'll have more space for those co-ed or men's only kind of organizations, but for now women really need to be lifted up.


I agree. And it feels like there are already by default men's only organizations.




And now with the expansion of your programming, like you really. have a lot of space for all abilities and for different experience levels. Now that your programming is expanding to include all of these other activities.



we, we are working on it last year. Being our first year was a little bit difficult. We. I didn't have, I guess, the, the programming to support women that were very new to, to skiing or snowboarding because you have the back country, it, it requires a pretty high level of skill in skiing and snowboarding.

We weren't able to, to support those women that needed to get that little extra lesson or that little extra time on their skis or snowboard to feel comfortable enough to come into the back country. So this year we're hoping to expand on that more beginner side of things. So we're really excited about that and also have that higher level, that back country program.


But with your hiking programming and stuff that, I mean, obviously the back country, you have to have a level of back country safety before you go out, or certainly before you take anybody out, but with your hiking program, for example, like that would be open to more, more levels of ability than your back country snowboarding


yeah. Yeah, for sure. I didn't have too much to do with the organizing of the, the hiking program. So I can't speak too much on that, but yeah, it was open to, I believe it was eight or 10 women from varying backgrounds of hiking


right on.

So you talk about like Avy trainings, certifications, and an interview with Doc Pow. You expressed a desire to see a lot more women in leadership roles in the outdoors, and now you are working actively to see that happen. Why is it so important for Indigenous women to hold positions of influence over outdoor space?


Like I was saying before with like my earlier career in the halfpipe there was just, there were two of us Indigenous folks that were part of this. And so it just, it didn't feel like you belonged, right? You were doing something different, you were doing something wrong. So having that representation in those leadership roles is going to be a huge change for the next generation that wants to, you know, get into the half pipe or get into the back country.

They're going to see other people like them and feel a bit more welcome. And it also. Now running all of these programs, you're looked up to as a mentor for the people that are wanting to get into it. And it's really important that we have Indigenous representation in those leadership roles, just for that exact reason to have that mentor that is like you.


Yeah, for sure. I didn't see a lot of people. I still don't see a lot of people who look like me on the mountain


Yeah. It's coming, but it's, it's, you know, it's a work in progress for the outdoor industry and like the shift is starting to happen.


Absolutely. And, and I'm noticing it more now and I'm excited about the environment. My nieces and nephews are going to come up in.

One of the things that I really love. Indigenous Woman Outdoors is very clear that when you use the term women it's meant as a gender expansive or gender inclusive term. Why did, why did you make that choice?


It's important for everybody to be represented. And so when we say women, we don't want to cut that in half. Like we want all people that. That like, I identify as women to be involved because we don't want to discriminate. And that's, it's, that's super important for us and Yeah, I just, that's where we need to be.

We need to be welcoming of everybody.


Are there other initiatives that you're seeing in outdoor spaces to be more women inclusive, more gender balanced?


There's a lot. I do follow a lot of Instagrams that like Native Women Outdoors, Native Woman Wilderness. And so there is, you know, a lot of things going on to, to help with the unequalness of things, I guess. And yeah, I don't really know of any organizations, I guess, that are like Indigenous Women Outdoors, But there is a lot for like BIPoC specifically Color The Trails is such an amazing organization and Juju is, she's just such an amazing person. And I love the ideas that she has out there. And the work that she's doing is just.


But it's still important for Indigenous women to have, you know, programming that's culturally appropriate in some spaces it's still. There still needs to be a space that, that recognizes and, and sort of honors a more traditional perspective on outdoor space.


And that's what we're striving for this year. We would like to add more cultural learning days and cultural workshops for the women in our programs, because that I hope will get the conversations moving a little bit more when we are out on the skin tracks so we can share our cultures and our diversity because you know, we're not all from Sḵwx̱wú7mesh or Lil'wat where we're open to any woman identifying Indigenous person.

We get a lot of people from other Nations throughout all of Canada.


when when you were speaking with Gaia Blog, you talked a lot about, you know, being Indigenous, but not in your own territory and finding ways to be a respectful visitor in someone else's territory. What are, what are some of the ways that you implement in order to be a respectful visitor?


Whenever I travel, I, I check out the Native Lands Ap., make sure I know whose territory we're on. And then, but by doing that, I'll be able to look up the Nations website and, and learn about them. Learn about their history because we are all so different. And. Then it gives me a sense of what their priorities are, what their issues are.

And I can like go in if I'm speaking at an event and I can go in and do like a land acknowledgement and pay respect to the people who took care of the land that I'm a guest on for so long. And that's super important to me. And I love to learn stories. Place names and the languages. Like if I'm traveling, I'll try to look up the languages as well. So I know the place named the real place names that I'm at. So, you know, if I'm posting on Instagram or on Facebook, I'll use those traditional place names rather than the English ones.


I love that. And that's, that's not just for Indigenous people. This is something everyone should be doing when they're guests in someone else's territory.


Yes, it is very important. And whenever I see posts about my own territory and the non-Indigenous community, using our traditional names, it just like, it brings so much pride in me. And I just have so much more respect for that individual. I think it's very important that everybody starts to, to try it out because there's so much history here and there's so much that goes behind those place names.

And when you learn those, that place names and the stories, you just feel so much more connected to the land that you're adventuring on. And is this a more fulfilling experience?


You also talked about a little bit about being in relationship with the land. What is some advice that you would give to, to non-Indigenous people in terms of being good guests being in good relations? What are some things that, you know, we can do so that we can be better guests when we're traveling and adventuring?


It's all about doing your research. You know, finding out whose land you're on, finding out a little bit about that Nation. Sometimes they'll have like cultural centers you can go in, feel free to have a look around there's tons of books with their stories, their place names about the history of their people.

And don't be afraid to ask questions in the cultural centers there, they're there to help people understand, I guess, the Nation's history and stories. So that's always really, really important. And then also, if you are spending a lot of time on Indigenous lands, we're all on Indigenous lands. But if you're spending a lot of time on it, you know, a certain Nation.

Have a look into different programs that you could maybe support or donate to like Indigenous Women Outdoors or like language revival programs are super important. That's how our culture was passed down. And so reviving those languages is very, very important in the, the journey to reconciliation and remembering our stories and our histories and passing that down to the next generation.


I love that. Yeah, that's something I'm going to personally think more on a language revival programs.

So switching gears recently, or you participated in the new documentary series Fabric, what was that experience like? What was it like working on that project?


That was probably the biggest thing. I've ever like committed to you. And it was so much fun. So it came around when I messaged my friend Mary Francoise, and we were like, oh, let's, let's go on an early, early season mission. And she was like, oh, can I bring my friend. And I didn't know who her friend was at the time.

She was just like, oh, my friends, Robin. And I was like, all right, sweet. So we went and we had probably the worst day of touring ever. It was mainly bushwhacking. And we ended up going back to the parking lot and just had a really good lunch chats. And we all got to know each other, found out it was, you know, Robin Van Gyn.

So I was a little bit starstruck and. It was a, it was a great time. And then I later I received an email from Robin asking if I would want to be a part of Fabric and be in this episode alongside Spencer O'Brien. And so I was just, yes, that sounds absolutely amazing. Let's do this. And it turned into. An entire winter of like filming and trying to meet up to get some good shots, but also talking about those hard stories and learning about Spencer and her journey to learning her culture.

And then her learning about our, my history and my journey to learning my culture. And we actually found out were very closely related.


No way


Yeah. So she has relations in Lil'wat and so through like marriages and stuff, there there's actually a little bit there. So it was kind of a fun.


The world is such a small place sometimes.




It's the part of the project is talking about like it's featuring different women in board sports and talking about their inspiration on the snow. So what is your inspiration on the snow


I just enjoy getting outside. I think when I was younger, the competitions were a big inspiration and trying. To, I guess, get out and compete. But now I look at it as learning more about my lands, our lands, and whenever I get out, I try to look up another place name or another story the name in my language for another plants.

And I learn about that before going out, and then when I'm out there, I just feel that connection a little bit more when I see say like a Douglas fir what, in our language, which would be, srap7úl I learned about that tree and like, it's, I don't know. That's I guess my inspiration to get out outside now is my culture


It's it's a bit of a different thing to be out with just women. It's a different experience. And so for the listeners that are just starting to get into this, how would you describe the experience being different when you're together with women in the outdoors versus a co-ed group or where you are the only woman.


I find that with women, there's less of a rush and. More chat along the skin track. So there's some really good conversations and we're not in a rush to get anywhere. We're not about, you know, getting to the top of the mountain. We're about finding good snow, having good snacks and just talking all the way.

I love it. Whereas when I go out with a group of like men, I find it's more like we need to make it to this, this peak. We need to get as much snowboarding in as possible. And you know, there's times when that's really fun. And I I'm very open to that. Like, you know, if you're hiking a big mountain, you want to go fast, you know, you don't want to be coming out at night.

So there's, there's upsides to both like going out with women and going out with men.


Another thing that you've talked a lot about in, in some prior interviews is about Indigenous scientific knowledge and, and land stewardship and, and what's, what are some things that you wish more people understood about Indigenous ecological or environmental knowledge?


I think they both. They go hand in hand, really Indigenous ecological knowledge and scientific knowledge that an amazing book that I'm sure a lot of people have read was Braiding Sweet Grass and that goes into like big detail about this. And like, when I was at out filming one day last year we were out with a friend Ross Reid who.

owns Nerdy About Nature. Well, he does like a little video kind of vlog and he talks about all these different plants in the scientific meanings behind them. And then we were talking, I think it was about lichen and so he was telling me like all the scientific knowledge?

behind it. And then I came in with the history, the cultural significance and the medicines that it, that it is.

And it was just really cool to hear both sides and, you know, they, they all just mixed so well to.


Are you seeing more initiatives in land management in terms of incorporating Indigenous scientific knowledge?


I guess in, in my area, the, our Nation does have a lot to do with the resource extraction. We don't see that everywhere in Canada, obviously, but I think where I am. There is a little bit of say, not as much as I think there should be, but like it's coming hopefully.


And that's something you want to see.


Yeah, definitely. I think that the two put together is, is how we should move forward.


I'm talking back, you know, to the snow sports industry or to public land management. What are some initiatives that you want to see, you know, implemented in order to improve, whether it be diversity on the snow, gender inclusion, inclusion of Indigenous knowledges. What, what are some things like if you, if you were like, I'm writing the rules right now, these are the things we're going to do.

What would the, what would they be?


I think it's really important to have Indigenous views in anything that happens on our lands. And I'm actually part of a, a initiative in my, my home territory with. BC parks, the Lil'wat Nation and the Pemberton valley trails association. And we're trying to come up with a visitor use management plan for a certain area in, within our territory.

And so everybody working together to use that. A traditional ecological knowledge, the scientific knowledge, and just what the general public would like to see and having everybody work together to come out with a strategy where we're keeping everybody's best interests and trying to work together to find the best way that we can access these lands together

as a, as a whole community. And I think that should be?

done in, in a lot of areas. Like not just within provincial parks, it should be, you know, all Indigenous lands. We need our say in what happens in our territories And you know, working together, not just having, you know, one group kind of making the shots, calling the shots.

We have everybody worked together like we've been doing with this land management strategy


And I think that's great that they're having people at the table to make the decisions. Are you seeing any of that in the ski, in ski and snowboard industry?


I think the ski and snowboard industry is just touching on the surface right now. It needs to go deeper. And I think that's where we are going, but it's right now, it's mainly. I feel like the industry?

is just trying to find Indigenous people that want to step up and be in those leadership roles. And then from there, once we're there, we'll be able to share our views and dive in a little bit deeper.

But for now it's, it's pretty basic and just scratching the surface.


No, there are so many incredible athletes and also mentors in who are Indigenous and in snow sports. And they, you know, they're not necessarily who we're seeing in magazines or videos, but there's certainly there. What is a way that the snow sports industry could. Reduce barriers for those people who are already, so in, you know, jazzed about the sports to get in and sit down at the table


I think that's kind of happening. I've had a lot of opportunities arise in this past year and, you know, Fabric being one of those. And like this is going to happen more and more. And as you know, other Indigenous folks see. More of themselves in those leadership roles. Like people are going to be like, oh, I can do this.

This is something that, that we, we are able to do. And I think it's really important to be showcasing those Indigenous athletes a little bit more like, like I said, I didn't have that growing up. It was my, one of my best friends, Jonathan Redman and myself in the half-pipe. And that was, that was all we saw.

And we were best friends. It wasn't like we were seeing anybody different from us up on the world stage.


You've been doing quite a lot of interviews lately and your voice has been heard in a lot of spaces and, and I love that. I love that. We're getting so much more opportunity to get your perspective. What is the question that you've always wanted to answer, but no one has ever asked.


I have no idea. And I get asked.

so many different questions and so diverse in where they come from, but I don't know. I guess one of the most important questions is how. The snow sports industry can support initiatives like IWO or ILSA or even just the whole, I guess, outdoor industry for BIPoC people.

And a lot of people think it's in gear and yes, gear is amazing until you have too much in nowhere to put it. I guess certifications is where the most help is needed and, you know, getting those ASTs like I have avalanche skills training or bike guiding certifications. That's the hardest thing. And then even to go further, the ECMG guiding certifications. Like this is like thousands and thousands of dollars. I don't have, and like, we're trying to get representation out there, but it's just so difficult to get the funding, get the time off of work to, to gain this knowledge and gain the experience required for these high level certifications.

So I think it's, you know, it's really important to, to realize that it's not just about gear it's about knowledge and experience. And that is how the industry can help with these initiatives is, you know, giving that knowledge, giving access to that knowledge is super important.


Yeah. Cause without the education, the gear is not super helpful.




so what does the future look like for you? What's what's coming up next.


I'm excited to, to know what's coming up next. I never know. This time of year is, is so up in the air for me all the time. I don't know what the winter holds. I'm in conversations with a few companies to, to see what we can do, what kind of programming or content we can create to, to work towards the cause.

And like, obviously I'm working with Indigenous Women Outdoors. I've actually taken on more of a leadership role within the back country mentor program. So I will be setting up that entire program for the whole season for six Indigenous women that want to get into back country skiing and snowboarding. So that one's really exciting.

But as far as that, it's just like, that's, that's my life Right now is that back country program. And I absolutely love it.


Right on any bucket list items that you think you might knock off this winter?


That premiere a Fabric. That's gonna be like so much fun and I'm so excited for it. So that is that's coming out in early December.


Okay. And we'll have links to all of that in the show notes, obviously for our listeners to find you, what other ways can our listeners find you find your programs support? What what are you where are.


Well, our website Indigenous Women Outdoors and Indigenous Life Sport Academy they both have donation buttons on those websites. Our Instagrams Is Indig Women Outdoors and ILSA crew, I believe. And then, yeah, just my personal is sutik.maqa7, which means winter, snow in my language.


Amazing. Thank you. This has been a lot of fun and I'm really excited for Fabric to come out. I've been been, you know, harassing the internet, trying to get more information as to when it's going to be available.


December, and I believe there's an online event scheduled for, I want to say late November, but I'm not a hundred percent sure. I think Robin's still working out the details for all of that, but it's thing and it just is going to be super fun and exciting.


Well, we're going to pay very close attention because we are certainly excited to see it. Sandy, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.


No. Thank you for having me.


That's it for another episode. Thank you so much for listening links on where to find Sandy and all the resources we talked about. Are available in the show notes at bipocoutside.com. I hope you love this conversation as much as I did. And if you did, don't hesitate to smash the like button. I hope you'll join us again for another episode of BIPoC Outside

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