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Women* refers to gender-expansive community members (cis women, trans women, non-binary, gender non-conforming, genderqueer community members, and any women-identified community members).

We meet at the trailhead, but we don’t all start from the same place. Equity means everybody gets what they need, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. With the support of allies, Indigenous Women Outdoors (IWO) provides a mentorship community that strengthens Indigenous matriarchal leadership in the outdoor industry and creates a barrier-free environment for the next generation of Indigenous riders.
Myia Antone in a bike helmet with her bike in the woods


Myia Antone, of Squamish Nation, initially founded IWO as a hiking project to empower ‎Sḵwx̱wú7mesh matriarchs to re-occupy their traditional land, to create opportunities for Indigenous women to be leaders in the outdoor industry, and to inspire other Indigenous youth and elders. 

Antone rides with Indigenous values and uses her bike to go into the mountains to harvest plants in the places where her ancestors did and hopes the larger community can learn to be more conscientious about whose land they are on and how they take care of the land when building or riding trails.

Her plan is working. She envisioned a community of Indigenous riders led by Indigenous riders. Within three years, IWO has grown with the help of allies in the mountain biking industry to identify and reduce barriers for Indigenous women to become industry-certified mountain biking coaches who can welcome even more Indigenous riders to the sport.

Five riders crossing a bridge in the woods


Mountain biking doesn't start out extreme. “Mountain biking isn't just about 'sending things'; it's about doing a trail and being able to ride a trail confidently,” says Antone. IWO offers a safe environment and professional training for Indigenous women riders to build the skills and self-assuredness needed to move from absolute beginner to certified instructor. That doesn't mean IWO riders don't send it.

Chelsie McCutcheon, a Wet'suwet'en woman and mother of two, worked five jobs to get into the mountain biking industry. Now both of her children ride and she is a coach. While each woman remembers their unique experiences as a young rider and their challenges with finance and access, they share the experience of making their way to live and ride world-class trails in the Sea to Sky.

Angela Preise navigates a rooty section of trail

Mountain biking isn't just about 'sending things'; it's about doing a trail and being able to ride a trail confidently.

–Myia Antone

Courtney and Michele descent slickrock between trees

No doubt mountain biking is an expensive sport—the cost of personal travel, coaching, and equipment is a considerable barrier. Sandy Ward of Lil'wat First Nation recalls her struggles learning to ride in Whistler Bike Park, “I'd have kids laughing at my bike in the lift line because it was really old.” Her humble beginning held its own virtue: “I learned on a crappy bike, so I got the technique first.

This can be more pronounced for marginalized groups, where policies like Canada's Indian Act have systematically separated Indigenous people from their culture, languages, and families resulting in long-lasting socioeconomic inequities. In its inaugural year, IWO sought out Indigenous women who already had experience riding to give them the tools to become leaders in the sport.

Michele Lobo riding and smiling in the woods

Michele Lobo of Yellowknives Dene First Nation was selected as captain of her high school mountain biking team before she even had her own bike: “I had to borrow a bike from one of the other kids at school because I didn't have my own for a race.” Lobo is leading this season's IWO MTB programming and says: “Embracing equity for Indigenous women in mountain biking takes time, it's a process that we are constantly working towards, and it takes allies and Indigenous leaders that commit to showing up week after week.”

Antone says, “We're talking about a larger system. I personally don't think you can talk about embracing equity without deconstructing what 'that' is and reversing the narrative to being more equitable to people who don't fit that standard.”

Melissa and Angela riding around a turn

Embracing equity for Indigenous women in mountain biking takes time, it's a process that we are constantly working towards, and it takes allies and Indigenous leaders that commit to showing up week after week.

–Michele Lobo

Riders approach a wooden feature


IWO runs beginner-friendly rides for those looking to push pedal for the first time and has hosted a downhill biking event at CrankWorx Whistler 2022. The IWO event saw 50+ Indigenous women and youth riding in Whistler Bike Park—many for the first time. 

IWO and its allies share a goal of getting more Indigenous women and youth out on bikes in the region. Their support has helped the first Indigenous women MTB coaches in Squamish and Whistler earn their Level One PMBI coaching certification, a requirement to work as a coach or guide in the industry. As a non-profit, IWO's growth and success depend upon equity-focused action by allies like biking mentor Jaime Hill.

Jaime and Courtney discuss a feature

Hill identifies as a settler ally and approaches coaching and mentorship with an equity-first attitude, a willingness to learn, and a determination to stand up for Indigenous women and their unique challenges within the industry. Recognizing that the usual three-day intensive Level One PMBI training would be challenging for Indigenous women, as they often have extensive caregiving roles for their families and within their communities, Hill found out what would work for IWO riders without lowering the bar and ensured they got what they needed to succeed: “We saw a need to adjust the time frames and structures of how the training is traditionally delivered, that considers our group's cultural values.” With thoughtful planning, Hill worked with allies at PMBI to redefine a training schedule to align with the needs of IWO riders while ensuring the same standard of training and education was provided. 

A group of riders talks in the woods

By incorporating additional skill-building over the fall 2022 season, IWO and Hill helped another cohort of women complete their PMBI Level One coaching certifications. With new Indigenous mountain biking leaders and support from allies, IWO hopes to offer more opportunities to new riders. With development on and off the bike, IWO is paving the way for Indigenous women to reclaim community leadership as well as their relationship to land and culture through mountain biking and outdoor recreation. 

Michele and Angela ride wooden features


IWO's mentorship continues beyond the end of the trail—so much of the community revolves around reconnecting to their Indigenous cultures, languages, and traditional teachings. Ride days often start with the group sharing new Indigenous words they've learned or experiences they've had. It has become a space to celebrate being Indigenous, reflect on hard truths, and move forward with the support and strength of other Indigenous women.

Melissa and Michele talking and smiling

A big part of what I think IWO does is that it creates safety. Safety to feel comfortable, and to learn, in a space where you are accepted straight away—no exceptions.

–Melissa Arnott

Courtney and Angela talking and smiling

From its first season, IWO has worked to create a community with a safe and supportive environment for Indigenous women, who can be reluctant to enter a scene they don't feel part of. Rider Courtney Milne of Chippewas of Nawash First Nation remembers: “My friends, who are all non-Indigenous, were encouraging me to get out on the bike. I felt immediately on the outside as an Indigenous person, especially as an Indigenous woman. I felt like I couldn't see myself in this place. Just knowing that IWO was doing something like this instantly changed my mind, and I wanted to do it.”

 Melissa Arnott, Anishinaabe Kwe from the Ojibway Nation, agrees that being welcomed into a group of Indigenous women riders, and receiving proper training, was instrumental in boosting her confidence and sense of belonging: “A big part of what I think IWO does is that it creates safety. Safety to feel comfortable, and to learn, in a space where you are accepted straight away—no exceptions.”

Riders pedaling up a switchback, as seen from above

I didn't have to show up in a certain way when I joined the program. I knew I would be safe, accepted, and encouraged.

–Melissa Arnott

Melissa and Michele riding singletrack

The differences in our beginnings, values, challenges, and skills mean that the race looks different for each of us. Recognizing and honoring these differences—the things that hold us back, what each of us needs to realize our goals, and what each of us has to offer—is the first step toward equity. On and off the mountain, there is no equality without equity first.  

The goal is for all riders to be unafraid of not knowing when they begin to learn.

Melissa descending through trees and brush

Photos by Mason Mashon. Words by Kerry Eno.