|March 13, 2014
On-line 'Winter Challenge' has cultural, spiritual roots
By Lailani Upham
(L to R) Davantae Lucero, 13, with brother Demetrius Lucero, 11, getting ready to take the Winter Challenge at a river near their home in Missoula. (Courtesy photo)
FLATHEAD RESERVATION — “I nominate you – you have 24 hours to take the challenge” is the message sweeping across social media sites from one Indian community to the next.
It all started only weeks ago in British Columbia, Canada according to Global News, from Carielyn Victor, a member of the Stó:l? Nation, who said the idea is not new – but the concept of taking it public is.
The idea known as the “Winter Challenge 2014” is where folks nominate and challenge their family and friends to submerge into a cold lake or river, or make a snow angel with the least amount of clothes on and they only have 24 hours to do so.
People may decline if they wish. It’s not a do or die.
The “challenge” has spread throughout Facebook where folks are posting videos of themselves taking the challenge and nominating friends via broadcast.
Some are going overboard and trying to name off every person they know, while others are sticking with close family members to go along with them.
The “Winter Challenge” concept is actually a common practice across indigenous groups to take part in a ceremony such as this is a part of a cleansing ritual, but for the most part a private affair.
Chilliwack, B.C. resident, Victor stated, “Originally it’s not really talked about,” she said. “Each community has its own word and own custom.”
“In a way it’s something else and it’s not our exact ceremony.” The belief is to feel clean and light and free of troubles. “I’ve talked to a few elders about the conflict in a ceremony being exposed,” she said. “But the benefits outweigh the negative.”
Right here on the Flathead Reservation several community members are posting their dunks.
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Polson Tribal Representative Vernon Finley featured himself and his son Jerome. Jerome had an underwater camera attached to his chest to visually capture the emerging effect and the verbal effect was a couple comments repeated after coming out of the water and onto shore, “That was cold – that was cold.”
Regina Mad Plume said she got the nomination and had the task of finding a good spot to jump in Flathead Lake where no ice threatened to get in the way.
Mad Plume said she accepted the challenge and could not refuse after seeing a lady in a walker and another on crutches do it.
After the fact, Mad Plume told her father Melvin about it and he told her he was glad to hear she did it. She said her dad then shared that long time ago the ancestors used to it every winter to build up their immune systems and to strengthen their bodies and also to change their luck.
Many of the times it would be done after sweats to make the body stronger, she explained.
Mad Plume said since her ice-cold dunk on Sunday, the weather temps to her - seem warmer to her.
The body-strengthening concept is appearing to have immediate results.
Natasha LaRose, a Salish Kootenai College student, said she took the challenge after her husband was challenged and he handed it to her next. “He told me I couldn’t be lame and not do it.”
LaRose said she had to take the snow angel approach; however, “If I weren’t deathly scared of water I would have done it. The challenge with the snow angel was trying not to find crunchy snow that would just scratch up my skin.” She added it wasn’t so bad and she found some workable snow not far from her front door.
Jordan Stasso, CSKT tribal member said he got nominated six times. “Everyone in my drum group, Young Bear was doing it, so that’s how I got roped into it.”
Stasso’s video labeled, “Winter Challenge, Old Way. Don’t act like you’re not impressed,” is filmed up at Mission Dam, shows him a breech cloth dancing Indian into the icy waters then flopping backwards with war cry; he pops up, stumbles around trying to ground composure and then starts dancing out.
Stasso said he not only did it for fun he said, “I also did it because the cold water is good for your body, it takes sickness away. It did it for my health.”
Other CKST tribal member Kimberlee Dempsey-Edmonson said her challenge was to make a demonstration against the Keystone XI Pipeline proposed to be built through the United States borders, “I used my challenge to also make a protest against TransCanada. If our waters are polluted we won’t be able to enjoy this life-giving element. My prayer while going into the ice cold Flathead Lake was to bring awareness to tribal leaders that our future is at stake and I asked God to change their greedy hearts and help our leaders to focus on the lives of our future generations, not the ‘so called wealth’ that the pipeline might bring.”
Kristina Lucero, CSKT tribal member and Missoula resident took the challenge with her two young sons, Devantae and Demetrius.
Her accepting came was not just a fun goofy gesture but actually from customs carried down to her, “My grandma told me years ago that our people (my tribe is part of the coastal Salish people, I’m from the Tseycum band) hold water very sacred, that it’s healing and if you wash yourself off with cold water, it can add so many more blessings to your way of life. I sometimes take a dip early spring to - as my grandma would say - wake up my spirit it’s meaningful in that way to me.”
Lucero added that it made her happy to see so many people having fun with it even if they did not fully understand the underlying purpose. “It’s awesome to see so many indigenous people come together and share a common experience my grandma said my ancestors have practiced centuries ago.”
Editor's Note: CKN encourages challengers to be safe and not risk your health and safety. Watch for swift moving streams and rivers during the spring melt, and be prepared to warm up after the dip to avoid hypothermia.
Correction: Jordan Stasso completed his challenge at Mission Dam, not Mission Dam Falls. Online edition corrects this error.