Outdoor recreation facing its own reckoning with diversity and inclusion, advocate says
'I've been doing this work for a long time, and only now am beginning to see this amount of support'
British Columbia is renowned for its lush green forests and sparkling blue lakes, but there's something else Judith Kasiama has noticed while exploring its trails: a whole lot of white.
From advertising to trail names, the business of outdoor recreation has been criticized for falling short when it comes to representation and diversity and for a culture that has alienated women and people of colour.
Kasiama has been working to change that for the past three years after founding Colour the Trails, a group with a mission to inspire Black, Indigenous and people of colour to get out and enjoy the outdoors.
She didn't want a lack of diversity and representation to make anyone feel excluded from any outdoor activity, like she has at times.
"I've always been curious about skiing but I've never really seen a Black person that skis growing up, or all these different activities, I really didn't see any representation," she said.
"As I got older and just doing my own research and study, I've come to realize that, no, I do have opportunities to be in these spaces, I do have the right to be in these spaces and there's something beautiful about being in nature and connecting with nature."
The culture is starting to shift more rapidly, Kasiama said, partly due to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Over the past few months, Colour the Trails has received more support than ever, she said.
'Nobody wanted to touch the topic of race'
The group recently partnered with a local guiding company to host a mountain biking workshop exclusively for BIPOC.
It has received donations of money and gear, as well as offers from people wanting to volunteer or serve as mentors.
Some of the biggest names in the outdoor industry have responded to the global reckoning to address systemic racism with commitments of their own.
B.C.-based outfitter Arc'teryx says it is working to increase diversity within its corporation and brand.
The company was not able to comment by CBC's deadline, but in an Instagram post, it said some of its commitments include establishing employee resource groups to unite diverse voices, ensuring education for all staff on inclusion, anti-racism and identity development, and including more BIPOC in its ambassador and athlete programs.
When asked for comment, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) directed CBC to an update on its website about its diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.
The company says it is committing to supporting more BIPOC-led organizations in its community investments, and implementing mandatory unconscious bias and anti-racism training for managers, and more mandatory training for all staff to "embed inclusivity in our work culture."
Kasiama says it's encouraging to see, but overdue.
"I've been doing this work for a long time, and only now am beginning to see this amount of support," she said.
"The outdoor industry has been really slow and very hesitant because I guess nobody wanted to touch the topic of race."
She's not relying on government or outdoor companies to steer the change, though.
She believes it takes everyday people working at a grassroots level to speak out against a lack of diversity in the industry and claim their part in creating space and welcoming people in.
Next year, Kasiama is planning a hiking trip for BIPOC from Victoria to Manitoba, learning about the history of Black Canadians along the way.
"There's a lot of Black Canadians who were involved in the outdoors," she said.
"Our hope is to just showcase those Black Canadians and uplift their voices and their stories."