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"The Active Circle is a family, I feel like I'm part of something. I feel really supported in the work that I do."

Evan Chamakese, Pelican Lake First Nation

Patrick Lucas has seen some small steps of progress. But Lucas, the founder of the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Program in the Canadian province of British Columbia, is hoping his venture grows into something much, much bigger.

Lucas, a community planner, is not Aboriginal, but he has worked extensively with First Nations communities over the years. In 2012, he founded the mountain bike program, which encourages youth to live healthier lives through riding. The program also aims to have youth reconnect with nature and land through mountain biking.

Since the program’s inception, Lucas, and others keen about the project, have traveled to four First Nations communities. Once there, they have provided mountain biking and trail riding clinics. And in a couple of cases they have stuck around for several days to help build a small mountain bike park, complete with ramps and jumps. "When I see they're using the park it gives us a sense of hope," Lucas told ICTMN. "And they all say it's a big help in keeping the kids active."

Some other activities in the program involve bringing mountain bikes to the communities for those youth who do not have one to ride; and training is also provided on how to repair and maintain bikes, and how to construct and maintain trails.

Kate Joraanstad is one of the youngsters who took part in Lucas’s clinic in Beecher Bay. "I liked the obstacles the best," said Joraanstad,11, who borrowed a bike to take part in the day's activities. "You could ride up and down them."

Lucas hopes 2015 will be the most active year yet for the program. "We're really excited about this year," he said. "We have some pretty ambitious ideas. We're still building, but so far we have 4-5 communities to do some programming with this year."

His project has received grants from four groups: Mountain Equipment Co-Op, Vancouver Foundation, Via Sports and the Aboriginal Youth Sports Legacy Fund. Lucas also started a crowdfunding campaign in early February, to raise at least $5,000 for the program. Almost $1600 had been raised as of Feb. 22.

While some organizations and First Nations communities are willing to pump money into other athletic pursuits such as hockey and basketball, Lucas believes more needs to be done to sell people onto the benefits of mountain biking. "Mountain biking really isn't on the radar for a lot of First Nation communities even though a lot of the kids ride," he said.

From previous visits to communities Lucas said there are a fair number of Aboriginal youth that do enjoy mountain biking. Sometimes the adults in the community don't realize how avid some of the riders are. He's found some youth ride with their friends through some rugged terrain in their local woods. "They want to be out in the woods with their friends," Lucas said, adding his group is keen to revitalize some trails in order to make them safer for riders. "[The adults] don't even realize the kids are doing that and that this is going on."

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Active Circle Communities

Seine River First Nation and Fort Frances Friendship Centre, Ontario

With the support of GEN7 messenger Kent Brown, the community is planning activities for youth and young girls.

Katarokwi Native Friendship Center, Kingston, Ontario

The community is working with Gen7 Messenger Josh Sacobie around regular visits and events with the youth and the center.

Pelican Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan 

The community's youth council has been planning and implementing a number of activities including a girls only program, outdoor sports and leadership training.

Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Circle of Newfoundland and Labrador

The ASRCNL is working with CAAWS and Motivate Canada on the You Go Girls program in 7 communities.

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