Myia Antone didn’t grow up climbing, mountain biking or kayaking in her hometown of Squamish, British Columbia. Despite living in an area renowned for its backcountry, nobody else in her family skied, hiked or paddled either.
Instead, for this young leader in the outdoor industry, playing with her siblings in the blackberry bramble, finding robin eggs and getting bee stings are some of her strongest childhood memories outside.
“I’ve always had a connection to the land,” she says.
Myia is the founder of Indigenous Women Outdoors (IWO), a non-profit that supports Indigenous women in healing, connecting and training for careers out on the land.
It all started three years ago when she attended a conference put on by MEC and received a grant to start a hiking program for Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) women to re-occupy their traditional territory, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The program was called Tá7elnexwtway (roughly pronounced tuh-EL-neh-twy), which translates to teaching each other.
“I chose that name because getting out with other women, you teach each other. When you get outside, you’re teaching the land and the land’s teaching you, and it’s this really beautiful network of reciprocity and sharing.”
It went so well and people were so excited about the project that Myia decided she wanted to reach a wider audience—not just Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, but all Indigenous women living on the territory.
Now, IWO does just that, providing a sense of community for like-minded people who want to connect on the land. Part of their mission is to remove barriers that may be stopping Indigenous folks from getting outside—whether that’s organizing rides, finding gear donations or providing important training courses such as Wilderness First Aid. They also host regular meetups and a mentorship program for women who want to pursue careers in the backcountry.
And although the word women is in the name, IWO is an inclusive community of gender-expansive identities, including people who identify as trans, non-binary, gender queer and Two Spirit.
For too long, Indigenous people, women and gender-expansive folks have been excluded from the industry, according to Myia.
“A lot of the outdoor industry is all about exploring and conquering. I think we’ve been excluded from that mainly because that’s never been our relationship with the land. For us it’s never been about being the first person to climb this peak or paddle that river. Instead, we go outside to feel connected, to be part of that land and water, not separated or above it.”
Empowering and training Indigenous women to get the necessary certifications to join the industry will not only help create job opportunities, it will also improve the outdoor industry as a whole. Guides who share their traditional knowledge and connections to their homelands will help shift the conquering perspectives of their colleagues and clients, creating a positive ripple effect overall.
As a non-profit, IWO is grassroots but growing, busy applying for grants, accepting donations and training volunteers.
These days, Myia is an avid swimmer, mountain biker and skier in her beautiful Squamish homeland. But what she really loves most about these sports is connecting with others and getting to see parts of her traditional territory that she otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to. Indigenous Women Outdoors is a big part of that.
“It’s time for Indigenous women to be the teachers out on the land. We have so much to share.”