Skip to main content

Winter Challenge, Cultural Appropriation and Shrinkage: Spring Is Here!

Gyasi Ross writes about the 2014 Winter Challenge, and how to make this new, fun tradition even better in 2015.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

This whole "Winter Challenge" thing makes me nostalgic. I remember when I was a little kid, I used to try to convince my mom that March was when it started getting warmer. I mean, spring starts in March, right?? Of COURSE it’s warmer in March. We lived right on Cut Bank Creek (pronounced "crick") on the Blackfeet Reservation and there was a log that went about halfway out onto the Creek. Pretty much like clockwork around the beginning of March, I’d tell my mom I was going fishing, snagging whitefish, my cousins Dean and Frederick and me.

'Holding On (Oil On Chief Mountain)' by John Isaiah Pepion, 2014,

We’d go out for the day, doing the silly stuff that bored little country boys do, and make our way to the water (as an example of how "bored" and "country" we were, we’d try to get bulls to chase us because at least that was some action). We’d fish, maybe catch a few suckers, and then—OMG—I’d "slip" into the water.

Ooops. Go home soaked and wet and freezing. I’d be sick the next three weeks, my butt would be bruised from the willow that my mom tanned my hide with (that I had to pick), and the sucker fish were inedible. For some reason, she didn’t believe that my falling in the water was an accident.

Ahhhhhh…fishing couldn’t be more fun.

Likewise, this 2014 Native Winter Challenge stuff is fun too. Right?

RELATED: From Couch Potatoes to Cops: Winter Fun Challenge 2014 Sweeps Northwest

Here on the Suquamish Reservation, we’ve fully bought into it—it’s like that movie The Ring, with Speedos. My friend Coyote called me out and, like the overgrown seven-year-old that I am, I accepted. The entire police force joined in the shenaningans and so has pretty much every person who lives on the Rez. It’s become kinda a rite of passage on the Rez—like hickies, blankets on the wall and eagle claw bangs.

Now my son is sick from ungracefully falling into the Salish Sea, I had to see a man in a bikini and I showed my man boobs for my Facebook friends to see. Shrinkage. Lots and lots of shrinkage.


Now, it’s spread all over Indian country. It’s beautiful—we see fun and hilarious and inspirational Winter Challenge videos and a WHOLE BUNCH of Natives having lots and lots of fun. Elders are participating, tribal leaders, us common folks!! And, in true Native fashion, there have been discussions about where the Winter Challenge came from—we love claiming credit for stuff that really ain’t ours!

INDIGNANT INDIAN (WHO DOESN’T LIVE IN INDIAN COMMUNITY YET SOMEHOW SPEAKS FOR ALL INDIAN PEOPLE): "No, white woman you cannot put our traditional Pendleton designs on your dress that are made by a non-Native company that shows absolutely no support for Native anything? This is the worst thing that has ever happened to Indian people!"

OTHER INDIGNANT INDIAN (WHO DOESN’T LIVE IN INDIAN COMMUNITY YET SOMEHOW SPEAKS FOR ALL INDIAN PEOPLE): "White man, how dare you wear our sacred headdress that our tribal leaders only wear when they go meet white politicians in Washington, DC but never when they meet with Indian people? This is (also) the worst thing that ever happened to Indian people!"

Of course, this sacred spring ritual—the Winter Challenge—that goes all the way back to the January of 2014 is really just fun. It’s refreshing, and it’s beautiful to see Natives participate in something silly and viral and (somewhat) healthy—it’s cool. But let’s be clear here…next year, when we see a bunch of white people diving into the water in Pittsburgh, as much as we might want to think otherwise, they didn’t take it from Indians. They are NOT copying us. No, these crazy white people were crazy LONG BEFORE us crazy Indians were crazy (I mean, who really didn’t know that white people were crazier??) and they’ve been diving into freezing waters for a long time in Polar Plunges and Winter Challenges and…whatever…

Scroll to Continue

Read More

And they’ve done it to raise money for good causes. SOOOO… here’s my proposal—since we’re appropriating (HA HA HA) crazy a$$ white culture with our Winter Challenges, let’s do it for a good cause. NEXT year, when we start making these videos calling people out to dive into icy waters, let’s do it to raise money for something worthwhile. It’s a "dare" basically, right? Well, most dares come with some ridiculous prize attached to it. "IF you’re REALLY stupid enough to dive into that cold a$$ water, I’ll donate $20 bucks to some organization that prevents suicide in Indian country."

We get 1000 people to do that, all of a sudden we’ve raised $20,000 to combat suicide in Indian Country. Just a thought. (Another thought is a nutritional challenge, similar to the "Anti-Muffintop Fast" that a bunch of friends and I do the entire month of January—that one is actually based in traditional foods and will have a lot more healthful benefits. More on that in the next few weeks).

The Winter Challenges are fun. Let’s enjoy them, definitely—I have a suspicion that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Let’s also make it meaningful and bring a bit more purpose to this NEW tradition.

Happy First of Spring—pow-wow season is right around the corner. 

'Holding On (Oil On Chief Mountain)' by John Isaiah Pepion, 2014,

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
New Book, How to Say I Love You in Indian—order today!!
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi