Variations on an ancient Indigenous practice are going viral in the social media. Called-- and you've probably heard of it already-- "Winter Challenge 2014"; in which participants are asked to either fully immerse themselves in a body of water or, where there's snow, make snow angels while wearing swim attire or, lastly, where either of these aren't possible, getting drenched with a pail of water will do. Regardless of the method, the main idea is to get off the couch, out of the house and acquaint yourself with the winter cold.
As Carrie Lynn Victor from the Sto:lo Nation stated in a Global TV news article: "“There’s nothing but positivity in it. It really connects people to each other and to the water.”
The idea originated with Kura Jack, 19, of Chemanius. After a recent dump of snow, she grew concerned that few of her friends and relatives were outside, enjoying the winter weather. Instead, they seemed more interested in staying inside, watching tv or playing video games. Wanting to set an example, she grabbed her video camera, donned cut-offs and top and did snow angels in the freshly fallen snow. She then nominated others to do the Challenge.
And that's how it spread; the Challenger challenging others. This includes young and old -toddlers and elders alike-- from such locales as Southern California to Alaska; though predominately in Canada, and in particular in BC, and predominately, though not exclusively, native.
Public figures who took the Challenge include AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, who nominated actor Adam Beach, who took a light hearted approach from poolside in sunny LA. Fellow actor Evan Adams took up the challenge in Hawaii, though he described it as "unseasonably cold". The Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson waded into the waters of English Bay; The Union of BC Indian Chiefs Vice-President Bob Chamberlin dived into the icy reservoir of Collier Dam. The Wilderness Committee's National Campaign Director Joe Foy splashed into Clayoquot Sound. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and BC Premier Christy Clark have been nominated, but no word on whether they'll be doing the Winter Challenge.
As indicated, the Challenge has had special resonance in native communities. Not surprising, considering that it connects to ancient traditions of many First Nations. Evan Adams described it as "Reawakening the Indigenous spirit". Because it involves water, the Challenge is especially powerful. From the indigenous perspective; water is sacred, the giver and sustainer of all life, while also symbolizing both death and rebirth; flood and baptism. Underlying the whole phenomena is the somber truth that there are real, immediate threats to this most precious resource; and there are some who are saying the Challenge must be followed through by remaining vigilant to the threats not only to water, but to other Indigenous rights and freedoms.
Fittingly, too, Canada Water Week is upon us, bridging winter to spring and giving us occasion to celebrate and give thought to the importance of fresh water.
But in watching the videos of those taking up the Challenge, the approach is neither ponderous nor particularly reverential; but, nonetheless, positive. Usually you hear shrieks at the immersion in cold water and, then, laughter all the way around. Good fun being had by all.
There are also health benefits. One physical fitness expert, who also took the Challenge, says that a regimen of cold water immersion "boosts the immune system... and will improve your sex life."
What's next? With the weather warming and a new season coming, there is some talk of a "Spring Challenge". One suggestion, from Carrielynn Victor of the Sto:lo Nation, is to "plant a tree".