Members of the Nitinaht Lake Paddle Club and Canadian Olympic canoeists in Vancouver take time to pose for a group photo.

Members of the Nitinaht Lake Paddle Club and Canadian Olympic canoeists in Vancouver take time to pose for a group photo.

Ditidaht youth paddle with summer Olympian

Ditidaht youth paddle with summer Olympian Mark Oldershaw

Five youth members of the Nitinaht Lake Paddle Club recently had the opportunity to meet with a group of Canadian Olympic canoeists in Vancouver. The journey from Nitinaht took them more than 15 hours; they travelled on logging roads, highways and ferries to show their determination to learn from some of Canada’s best paddlers. Hugues Fournel, Brady Reardon and London Olympic bronze medalist, Mark Oldershaw, took the time out of their busy schedules to teach the young athletes all about their sport.

The youths were treated to a team building workshop, inspirational speeches from all three Olympians and a chance to take a photo with Oldershaw and his Bronze Medal from the 2012 London Olympic Games.  After receiving some valuable tips, the Ditidaht youth had a three-person canoe race between themselves with an Olympian in each canoe. Afterwards, they gave each of the Olympians a print from Chief Jack Thompson, the brother of the late Art Thompson, a world-renown Northwest-Coast First Nation artist.

“It was an honour to paddle with the kids from the Ditidaht youth program. They showed tremendous skill and spirit and have a lot of promise as future paddlers. I hope the program in Nitinaht continues to grow, fostering the great tradition of aboriginal canoeing and taking it into the future,” Oldershaw said.

The program launched on the National Healing and Reconciliation Day on June 11, 2012. It is a symbolic day to honour the residential school survivors, a day to take back their culture and heritage. The program began with 50 school children from the community, with less than half of them having paddled before.

Jason Anson, Sport Technologist, established the club and helped mentor five aboriginal community coaches. With the help of the community coaches, the Ditidaht First Nations plan to sustain the program long-term.

“From the launch of the program we have seen the community spirit lift and come together, children’s confidence improve and a measurable success in kids with low-self esteem transitioning to normal self-esteem as a direct result of the implementation of this aboriginal paddling initiative and their participation,” says Anson.

Today, 100 per cent of the Ditidaht youth paddle regularly. In the group’s first year’s season, half of the kids won a provincial title in one or more races. They won 25 provincial canoe and kayak championship titles in both non-aboriginal and aboriginal events.

The Ditidaht youth will wrap up their season next Thursday with a Christmas turkey dinner at their community hall in Nitinaht Lake. They will celebrate the birth of the Nitinaht Lake Paddle Club, a first of its kind in the Aboriginal Paddling Initiative in Canada. They will look forward to the upcoming North American Indigenous Games to be held in Regina, SK in 2014.