Chelsie McCutcheon is many things. She is a devoted leader, athlete, wife, mother, Wet'suwet'en, yogi, and a role model for the many people who have crossed her path. From the days of the First Nations Snowboard Team (FNST) to the Indigenous Life Sport Academy (ILSA), Chelsie has been with us right from the start. Her own love for snowboarding started back when she was a teen. Chelsie is from Witset Nation, and began snowboarding at the Hudson’s Bay Mountain. Her family saw the opportunity that sport could bring, and made sure she started at a young age.
“My family put me in skiing at age 3. So sport was really an avenue of social change for my family to overcome poverty, to get beyond the reservation in a healing way, and to become a leader in the community” Chelsie says.
A few years later, Chelsie joined the ski racing team, and her family would fundraise year round to cover the costs. Eventually she found her way to snowboarding, and decided to become an instructor.
“My parents couldn’t afford a pass, so when I was 15 I became a snowboard instructor so that I would get a free pass” she says.
Through snowboarding, Chelsie found freedom.
In 2004 Chelsie moved to Whistler. As she started making new friends, she realized that this was the first time she had ever snowboarded with other Indigenous people. One day, she opened up the local newspaper to find a story about the newly founded First Nations Snowboard Team (FNST). After reading about the team, Chelsie knew she had to get involved. She got a phone book to track down FNST founder Aaron Marchant, and began calling every person with the same surname. Several calls later she eventually ended up speaking to Aaron’s auntie. An excited Chelsie convinced her to give out Aaron’s number, but not without a warning.
“His aunty told me ‘just so you know, he’s married’” Chelsie laughs.
After speaking with Aaron, Chelsie became a snowboard instructor with the team. Over the years her dedication to the FNST would see her take on many roles, serving as a leader, mentor, program coordinator, and athlete. When Chelsie looks back at her journey, she speaks of the joy she felt watching the team grow and evolve year after year. How the core group of people continued to show up, while more and more people got involved. With a solid backing and a community of support, Chelsie and the other FNST leaders witnessed the magic that was unfolding, on and off the slopes. One moment in particular that Chelsie remembers is when she came back to Whistler after being away for four years. She had moved to Calgary in 2010 with her husband and son, and had started a new division of the FNST in her new community. When they returned four years later, Chelsie discovered that the kids she had been teaching before she left had grown into leaders themselves, and were now teaching in the same programs where they learned how to snowboard. For Chelise, it was a reminder of the impact these programs have.
“That's the legacy of the program. From day one you could see the potential. It was like ‘this is big’, you know? It’s an honour to be a part of, and to have been there since the beginning”, Chelsie says.
Today, Chelsie lives in Squamish with her husband Justin, their son Cullan and daughter Kaida. It’s