Winter challenge has roots in Native traditions


What started as a dare by two siblings in British Columbia has turned into a social media trend known as the 2014 Winter Challenge.

People across Canada and the U.S. have been risking the elements by either submerging themselves in snow or frigid waters, and many of them are doing so to raise awareness of issues important to Native people.

The two originators — Kura and Cordell Jack of Penelakut Island in British Columbia — told CBC News earlier this month that they got into the snow just for fun, then challenged a cousin to do the same. Their mother, Pamela Jack, said the idea is rooted in an ages-old tradition among many northern tribes to dive into lakes or rivers in the winter for spiritual cleansing.

As videos of the plunges have gone viral, many across Indian Country are taking the challenge with a certain purpose in mind as a way to create social change.

How it works is that a person who successfully fulfills the challenge nominates one or more individuals to join in.

I was nominated among a group of other unsuspecting individuals by Native journalist Mark Trahant, who is serving as the Atwood Journalism Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage for the current school year.

At first the challenge seemed daunting, but I quickly became excited about jumping in with both feet.

The object is to give people just 24 hours to take the plunge. I saw the challenge via Facebook on Thursday afternoon. There was no way I could have followed through in 24 hours. I let my nominator know that the earliest I could commit would be Saturday.

Another hurdle for me was that on Friday I went to an ophthalmologist who gave me an injection of medicine in my eye to help clear up a problem that developed recently. Although I truly wanted to take the challenge, I didn’t want to risk any further eye complications.

My husband, Roberto Michel, agreed and offered to take the challenge in my place. What a great guy.

My husband fulfilled the challenge with the same thoughts and hopes that I had, and that is to increase participation of Native people in the electoral process.

It’s important for tribes to get out the vote and for Native Americans to exercise their privilege to cast ballots in all elections that impact their lives.

Even though I was unable to fully submerge myself in the Gulf Coastal waters as my husband did, I plan to dive into coverage of the 2016 presidential race when the time comes.

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.


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