By Ramnik Kaur
We all need to be advocates for diversity outdoors!
Growing up in Northern Alberta, I always bonded with others through tiny adventures--catching bugs, bike riding, rock climbing, swimming, building igloos, snowball fights, and overall living our best life outdoors.
“When summer rolled around most of my friends would go camping. My people (Sikh and Punjabi) didn’t camp.”
When summer rolled around most of my friends would go camping. My people (Sikh and Punjabi) didn’t camp. Heck, they didn’t do half of the things that I did or dreamt of doing. My relatives/family would call it “goraya day kam” (white people's hobbies). And it got worse after we moved to Central Alberta to be closer to my community. I would get called white-washed for a lot of my interests. Having never seen other Punjabi/Sikh girls travel, adventure, and explore, my parents weren’t wrong to have fears. There was no one that looked like me hiking, on the seven summits, or even in the front country. Imagine how discouraging that was for someone that had always dreamt of doing those things.
The lack of diversity in the outdoors is very visible, but because of digital advancements I believe it’s so much easier for all of us to do our part and be more inclusive.
I have three personal reasons why diversity outdoors matters so much to me:
The more people that understand the importance of nature, the more they are inclined to help protect it.
Regardless of what we do, people watch. That means when I go hiking, I take up space. My turban is seen, my community is seen. This decreases the stigmas that are associated with people that wear turbans. This also increases a safe space to learn more about each other.
My main reason for striving for diversity is because the power of seeing someone else achieving/pursuing great things is amazing. If we can see someone like us doing it, we can do it, too.
Here are a few positive ways that we can encourage more people to get outside:
As a person of color (POC) and visual minority, it’s important to take up digital space. Let your community know that trying new adventures like camping, hiking, and horse-riding is fun and healing. This is a great way to show families that having the ability to be in nature is important and a way to slow down in this fast-paced world.
As a person who is a part of the outdoor community: support other people! Try to learn about the historical/generational traumas that might be holding them back instead of burying them under comments like “who is stopping you?” Ask others to join you on your expeditions and help answer any questions or concerns they might have. If you are in this community, that’s because you have had mentors show you the ropes. You didn’t just get up one day and decide to do a thru-hike or go climbing.
Start in groups! My first-ever camping trip was a couple years ago. We were backpacking in bear country, with no proper gear and over-packed to the max. But to this day it was an absolute dream come true being able to camp with my family. This could also mean that you start with organizations where you know you are safe and can learn all the basics.
It’s important to recognize the fears that other communities might have of the outdoors, or the historical setbacks they might have. For Punjabis (who are historically known to be farmers), they used to be very well connected to their soil. That changed very quickly when being a farmer was no longer enough to provide for families. The mass immigration periods to other continents and the struggle to fit in destroyed that connection to the soil. The heavy importance of succeeding in one's professional life in order to reduce the struggles of being an immigrant burdens the choices of not only first-generation immigrants, but also those that follow. And that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
It’s time to create a space where there are no stupid questions. My first time camping we didn’t take a stove. We held a pan over the campfire to cook for 6 people, who were very hungry. Our kind campsite neighbors made us coffee the next morning and showed us what a backcountry stove looked like. Ask questions even if you have to be a little annoying at times.
Use the safety resources that are online and do your research! In bear country, be bear aware and know what to do if a bear is seen. Same goes for avalanches and wildfires. Don’t let your fears limit you. There are a lot of what-to-pack guides, area guides, and how-tos online that can help!
Here I am, on a mission to create a community where everyone can have fun outside. Where we can push our limits, seek discomfort, and grow together. Here is to creating a space as diverse as nature itself. Here is to YOU being a part of the change and continuing to empower others to get outside. Here is to us being advocates for diversity in all spaces.