More Than “Just A Bike Race”
Q&A’s with Michelle Friesen
Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?
I live on the traditional territories of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and my family’s First Nation, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, also known as Whitehorse, Yukon. I moved to the Yukon in 2016 where I was reconnected with some family and my Yukon First Nations background. It instantly felt like home and I knew this is where I was always meant to be.
How did the idea for this project come to you?
I’ve had the opportunity to work on a couple projects with Rising Youth, the first being a traditional drum workshop. I felt called to learn to make a traditional hand games drum but had trouble finding a place to learn until a friend suggested that I should host my own drum making workshop. Little did I know this experience would set me down the path I am on now.
After spending a weekend with elders and plenty of sunshine I was eager to continuing creating opportunities in my community. Then of course Covid came along... and in an effort to support pandemic initiatives, Rising Youth offered their Alumni a chance to apply for a second round of funding.
I had discovered a love for Mountain biking and with so many new women joining the sport I thought a women’s mountain biking event would be a great way to get women together in a safe, healthy, and welcoming way to get out of isolation, get on the land and just have a really fun day all while providing mental health and wellness resources and supports. It was a success and the event which was named ShredHERs has become an annual event hosting a race, group rides and a retreat each year!
What was your motivation behind this project?
You can tell the team at #RisingYouth really want to see these projects and the youth that are showing up and leading in their communities succeed. They offered support through the whole process and made sure it was easy to achieve your intended impact. From writing the proposal, to building a budget to planning and execution, I felt supported the whole way through from both #RisingYouth and my community.
In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
The impact of these projects was much more than I expected. It changed my perspective on what a project can mean to someone in my community, and gave me the confidence and skills to address other gaps in my community. Thinking back to organizing my second project, I remember thinking it’s “just a bike race” but through the process realized that what was happening was much bigger. I was able to see women get out of their comfort zone and feel empowered, and create a safe way to feel connected and healthy during a time of fear and isolation, I realized it was more than just mountain biking, it was community building and looking out for one another. The first race had participants from across five generations of women and in our second year our youngest rider was 5 years old!
How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?
Not only did these experiences impact my community, they impacted myself and my passion for connecting with community. These experiences opened doors to opportunities that I never would have expected. Following the first ShredHERs event I was approached by an incredible friend who asked if I would consider running in the territorial election. This was one of the first times I really realized the impact these projects carried and how the skills I learned could transfer to something like politics. So I agreed to run, I learned so much along the way, made friendships that will last a lifetime and put everything I had into the team and the campaign. On election day I was only 46 votes away from winning the riding.
This experience helped me to realize the importance of representation in leadership and how others, like myself, really didn’t see themselves as a ‘politician’ but going through the process it was more clear than ever that we needed more people like this to get involved. In an effort to encourage others to see themselves in leadership, I took my budgeting and proposal writing skills from Rising Youth and applied for the Gender Equity Fund to create the project Lead As You Are which will be hosting its first virtual conference this year to highlight women in leading roles and encourage diversity in politics and leadership!
I really fell in love with connecting to the community in this way, so last October I ran in my second election and became the first Indigenous woman to ever be elected to Whitehorse City Council! It’s been an incredible experience so far and I know I’m carrying the confidence and skills from Rising Youth with me still.
What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
If I were to leave a piece of advice for the youth of today it would be to take a moment to realize the true impact you and your work have, your efforts can mean so much to your community. And make sure you take time to celebrate and enjoy all your accomplishments, big or small, along the way.