From the Editor: Changing the faces of nature

Canada’s environments are diverse, and so are the people who enjoy them

Ygor Gonzalez Filos hiking at The Black Tusk in British Columbia. (Submitted)

Outdoor activities became a new experience for me last year when COVID-19 hit. I didn’t feel comfortable going to enclosed spaces, so I gave hiking and biking a try when my brother, an avid adventure seeker and triathlon athlete, encouraged our family to get bikes and start trail walking.

However, the more I experienced British Columbia’s outdoor environments, I began to notice a pattern: there weren’t a lot of diverse folks walking or biking through nature. 

This lack of diversity in the outdoor culture didn’t surprise me as much. If we take a look at hiking advertisements, the majority of them showcase white adventure seekers. 

This lack of representation was something Judith Kasiama wanted to change in B.C.’s trails. Kasiama is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a member of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the founder of Colour the Trails, a community group that focuses on getting Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour out in nature. 

After Kasiama’s very first hike, she felt that she needed to tell her friends about her new experience. However, she noticed that many of her BIPOC friends couldn’t afford a car, “others felt intimidated by the idea of exploring the outdoors, which has been advertised as a predominantly white activity for years,” she said in an article published by Trans Canada Trail. 

In contrast, in 2018, the Mountain Equipment Co-op did a national survey that found that BIPOC individuals spend more time outdoors than white people. The participation rate is eight per cent higher than people who aren’t BIPOC. 

“Three in ten POC (29%) jog or run compared to only under two in ten among white people (14%)” the survey found. 

Even though there are many BIPOC people experiencing nature in Canada, advertisements still fail to capture the diversity, which could diminish the incentive for people of colour to participate in outdoor activities. 

We often forget that some of Canada’s BIPOC communities are immigrants or refugees that came from tropical or hot countries, and those climates promote and encourage outdoor activities. Some of them are already familiar with hiking, biking, or trail walking. 

In Ontario for example, Robin Pacquing, a Philipino-Canadian surfer, told Global News that because her parents are from the Philippines, it was important for them to teach Pacquing how to be “outdoorsy,” so her dad even taught her how to ski. 

Because of the lack of diversity in outdoor campaigns like trail running, hiking, and biking, many BIPOC individuals might feel as if it’s an activity that they can’t pursue in this country. 

Another reason could be that they don’t feel safe in Canada’s outdoor spaces due to fear or lack of knowledge about the hazards they could face in a different climate.

Those fears could be “not knowing enough about ticks, giant hogweed, and poison ivy, but more tellingly, [the fear of] people. People who ‘othered’ them through their gaze and made them feel ‘not welcome’ or ‘as intruders,’” reads an article by the National Observer. 

Even though some people experience a fear that might come from new environments and a lack of connection to BIPOC hikers in the media, the faces of nature can change in Canada. 

A report by Nature Canada conducted focus groups with dozens of BIPOC youth in Toronto and looked into ways to increase racial diversity in nature organizations, social media feeds, and publications by “[showcasing] racialized youth and experts in communications material and social media” and by profiling “racialized people working in nature and the environmental sector.” 

The second step in the report is to promote urban nature and increase access for racialized youth by presenting community gardens and city parks to people who might not have heard of them before. 

Their third step is to increase comfort in nature through guided activities and education. This step focuses on increasing the confidence “about being in nature through walks, hikes and field trips guided by people of colour or led by Indigenous people.”

Nature is for everyone to enjoy, admire, and a place where many people can find peace, and there isn’t a need to limit representation of Canada’s diverse environments to just one face.