Native people have been taking an icy plunge the past couple of months, launching themselves into frigid oceans, glacial rivers and even snowbanks. Across North America they have caught the Winter Challenge bug, plunging into chilly waters—some for fun, some for a cause.
What began as simply a fun Facebook dare between friends in several British Columbia First Nations has gone viral, and a number of some of North America’s most well-respected indigenous artists, activists and celebrities have gotten caught up in the fun.
For many, the Winter Challenge has gone beyond a simple friendly dare. Many have used their videos to demonstrate support for protecting the marine environment, particularly from oil and gas pipelines and tanker spills. Others have spoken about the deep spiritual roots of traditional water ceremonies in many indigenous cultures, and see it as a purifying and healing ritual.
Not everyone posted their video as publicly as YouTube. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo took the plunge and posted it on Facebook, then challenged actor Adam Beach, Wab Kinew and author Joseph Boyden.
“I know you’re in southern california right now,” Atleo said in challenging Beach, Salteaux, who most recently appeared in CBC’s Arctic Air. Beach appears, shirtless, next to his pool, throws a bowl of ice cubes into the water and … cut! See it here.
Whatever your take on this quirky, viral rite of wintry passage, here are just a few of the better-known Winter Challenge participants.
Comedians Ryan Red Corn and Sterlin Harjo, of the celebrated Native comedy troupe the 1491s, took to the winter waters. Note that the video has been carefully censored to make it “safe for work.”
Fellow 1491s members Dallas Goldtooth and Frank Waln, based in Chicago, followed in their troupe-mates’ soggy footsteps in Lake Michigan in this video:
The Baker Twins
Canadian models Shannon and Shauna Baker—often called the Baker Twins—are from Stellat’en First Nation reservation, B.C., of the Carrier Dene tribe. Now based in L.A., they’ve appeared on The Tyra Banks Show to combat Native stereotypes, Shannon has competed in Miss Universe Canada, and both have starred in numerous television shows and films. They literally took their Winter Challenge to the red carpet.
Juno award-winning musician, rapper and producer Kinnie Starr took the cold northern oceans of Haida Gwaii in B.C. and challenged some other musical heavyweights not to chicken out. She claims to have repeated the challenge at least two times since.
Sto:lo nation, B.C. rapper Ostwelve, also known as Ronnie Dean Harris, took to the icy Pacific waters to raise awareness of the risk from oil sand tankers that would increase with the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal currently facing protests and controversy in the province.
Award-winning country singer and performer Shy-Anne Hovorka took to the waters herself. Her 2012 album Interwoven Roots won six Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards that year, and her song “Can’t Change the World” was featured in the 2010 World Interfaith G-8 Summit. Hovorka was challenged by Gabriel Ayala, who can be seen doing his best to fulfill his dare in Arizona in ICTMN’s original story. Hovorka, for her part, did what she could with snow and steaming water, taking the opportunity to preview a new song, “Dirty Kinda Pretty,” from her upcoming album “Bones,” to be released in April.
Clayton Thomas Mueller
One repeated challenger is prominent Indigenous environmental campaigner Clayton Thomas-Mueller, who initially jumped into a thick snowbank outside a gas bar, as seen in ICTMN’s earlier Winter Challenge coverage.
… And then followed it up with a more watery plunge a week later for good measure.
He dedicated his jumps to Idle No More organizers and land defenders, urging numerous other prominent activists to accept the challenge.
Ahousat First Nation
On the far west coast of B.C., Ahousat nation took to the waters en masse in a Winter Challenge-turned-prayer ritual “for those who need it, for people who are sick, have cancer, going through a tough time, or just need a prayer.”