February 21, 2010

First Aboriginal women in Winter Olympics

Feisty First Nations twins pioneered aboriginal place in Olympic sports

By Terri TheodoreWhen they first wore Canada's colours in the 1972 Sapporo Games, twins Sharon and Shirley Firth broke racial barriers to become the first aboriginal women to compete at the Winter Games.

But nearly four decades later, the women say little has changed.

In Vancouver Friday to promote their book and encourage more young people to get into sport, the sisters pointed out that just one of the Canadian athletes competing at the 2010 Games is aboriginal. Caroline Calve, a member of the First Nations Snowboard Team, was a part of the Canadian snowboarding team.

"I think it's really important that the aboriginal people themselves start stepping up to the plate and be proud of who they are. They have nothing to lose," Sharon said.

The twins--who say they're 112 years old, collectively--spent 17 years on Canada's cross-country ski team, competing in four Olympic Games: Sapporo in 1972, the 1976 in Innsbruck, Lake Placid in 1980 and Sarajevo's Games in 1984.

Between them, the sisters won 48 Canadian championships.

Sharon said it was a big deal for an aboriginal person to make it to the Olympics back then, and it still is now.

"It's really amazing that we did it and we're really proud to say that we represent 370 million people earth-wide," she said, referring to the world's indigenous population.

Members of the Gwich'in First Nation and part Metis, as teenagers they lived in Inuvik, NWT, where they joined the Territorial Experiment Ski Training program.

"We trained our butts off to make sure we made that team," Shirley said, as visitors streamed past her at the popular Northern House pavilion.
Comment:  For a similar subject, see Alaska Native Snowboarder in Olympics.

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