Sask. Indigenous couple finds fitness, reclamation climbing hill used to punish residential school kids

WARNING: This story incorporates particulars some readers might discover distressing.


You will not discover mountains in Saskatchewan, however one couple has scaled a private Mount Everest on the Prairies.

Philip and Michelle Brass, who reside on the Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan, every climbed to the highest of the Qu’Appelle Valley a pair hundred instances over the course of a 12 months.

Although it is not as properly referred to as Everest, the couple selected a hill with a widely known historical past.

The Lebret hill is nestled within the Qu’Appelle Valley. There’s a small chapel three-quarters of the way in which up and the stations of the cross mark the steep pathway.

On high of health, Philip and Michelle’s quest to beat the hill additionally turned a method to reclaim it.

The Lebret Indian Residential School was situated close to the hill. For generations youngsters from the Peepeekisis, Okanese, Star Blanket and Little Black Bear First Nations have been taken from their houses and despatched to that faculty or others prefer it within the space. That included Philip’s mother and father, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Survivors inform of the Lebret Hill getting used as punishment. Children from the Lebret college have been compelled to climb the steep hill, typically on their knees.

“I do know for lots of our individuals, their affiliation with the hill will not be an excellent one. It’s a spot of painful recollections.” Philip stated. “But it is essential for our era — the primary that weren’t stolen from our households and compelled to go to that faculty — to reclaim the area, reclaim it as ours and start constructing a brand new legacy.”

Michele stated she used her climbs as a non secular follow.

“I might climb and take into consideration the kids that must climb it,” she stated.

“I might say prayers as I’d go up.”

Michelle stated typically residential college survivors would attain out on Facebook to thank the couple for serving to them really feel higher in regards to the place.

Health quest

The couple’s climbs up the Lebret hill offered some unbelievable views. (Submitted by Philip and Michelle Brass)

The hill makes for a calendar-worthy image in opposition to a deep blue Saskatchewan sky. It was a straightforward alternative for the couple as a result of it is accessible to the general public. It was additionally on the path to Philip’s work with the Prairie Valley School Division.

It started as a quest for Philip, who was affected by some critical again ache.

“I wished to compensate for my weak again, and weak core, so I wanted to develop leg energy.”

He in the end wished to get in higher form for searching season. Philip has been an avid hunter his complete life and now Michelle has taken it up as properly. The couple are advocates for Indigenous meals sovereignty and conventional Indigenous practices.

“I wished to coach my physique in a method to put together me for the exercise of carrying a heavy load,” Philip stated.

Philip and Michelle Brass have a good time with their son Forrest after Philip accomplished his 2 hundredth journey up Lebret Hill within the Qu’appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Philip and Michelle Brass)

Philip began climbing the hill in August 2019 and rapidly set the aim of climbing it 200 instances in a single 12 months. When climbing turned too straightforward, he began working up the 78 metres. His private greatest was two minutes 58 seconds.

When he wasn’t working, he would carry weights up the hill to copy the method of packing out a giant animal after a profitable hunt. Gradually he constructed as much as carrying 48 kilograms in a backpack up and down the hill. That’s greater than half his physique weight.

Philip’s enthusiasm was catchy. Other family and friends, together with Michelle and their son, began making frequent visits to the highest. Michelle admits the primary time was powerful.

“At first I simply wished to make it to the highest with out passing out,” she stated. “But as soon as you might be up there, the views are wonderful.”

Michelle stated they simply saved going.

“We went once more, and once more, and once more, and I simply began to really feel higher,” she stated.

Winter climbs

Michelle additionally set herself a aim of 200 climbs in a 12 months. Meeting their aim meant going within the winter, typically twice or 3 times back-to-back. Philip stated his coldest day was –43 C. Michelle needed to get to the highest a number of instances throughout a month-long polar vortex the province skilled earlier this 12 months.

The year-long problem meant the couple needed to courageous winter situations for a lot of climbs. (Submitted by Philip and Michelle Brass)

Both met their aim. Philip acquired their first since he began earlier. Together they’ve climbed greater than 31,000 metres, the mathematical equal of climbing the peak of Everest greater than 3 times.

While they did courageous frostbite, no less than they did not want a sherpa or undergo from oxygen deprivation to perform their feat. It might have begun as a nod to health, however there is a sense of accomplishment in finishing a troublesome aim. As Sir Edmund Hillary of Everest climbing fame stated, it isn’t the mountain we conquer, however ourselves.


Support is offered for anybody affected by their expertise at residential colleges, and those that are triggered by the newest studies.

A nationwide Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set as much as present assist for former college students and people affected. People can entry emotional and disaster referral companies by calling the 24-hour nationwide disaster line: 1-866-925-4419.

Recommended For You

About the Author: Adrian

Leave a Reply