Growing up, Sandy Ward never saw other Indigenous people involved in the outdoors. “It’s not that we weren’t there,” she said, “it was that we were underrepresented.”
The overwhelming whiteness and predominant maleness in our representations of the outdoors isn’t just a failure of recognition, or of the imagination — it’s actually something more corrosive. For Ward, not seeing other young Indigenous people out enjoying mountain paths led her to question her own belonging on them.
We all grew up seeing a point of view which intentionally omitted the Indigenous people’s perspective and innate belonging in nature. From the paintings of the Group of Seven, to outdoor equipment marketing campaigns, to the world of outdoor influencers, there’s long been an emphasis on able-bodied, heterosexual and cis-normative white guys. But all those glossy visual representations are giving you the wrong impression — and it’s disconnecting queer and racialized communities from the outdoors.
Connection to the land and doing outdoor activities are integral for mental, spiritual and physical health. This connection with the outdoors through nature-based activities also informs and encourages us to take action to combat the climate crisis. But that assumption — that the Canadian outdoors is a white and male space — persists, creating barriers, whether emotional or physical, for racialized, female-identifying, disabled and recently immigrated individuals.
If you know where to look, there are BIPOC female-identifying and non-binary folks who complicate the predominant settler narrative of who explore and play in the outdoors, while inviting their community members along. Ultimately, the 10 figurative (and in some cases literal) trailblazers featured in the photo essay are here to disrupt the normative script of who belongs in the Canadian outdoors.
This photo essay was published in August 2021 by The Narwhal and can be read here.