canoe · fitness

Decolonizing your canoe trip

Canadian Canoe Museum

Sarah and I have a big canoe trip planned for the end of July, our longest back country canoe camping trip yet. You know that if you read last Monday’s blog post.

Blog readers also know settler Canadians are grappling with the discovery of unmarked graves and unearthing the bodies of Indigenous children who were killed at residential schools across the country. You can read Cate’s post on cancelling Canada Day for more. We didn’t celebrate Canada Day in my house and we’ve been thinking a lot about what’s ethically required of us as settlers on this land.

Since I’ve also been thinking about our canoe trip–that very Canadian activity–I’ve been thinking about the connection between recreational canoeing and camping, and land ownership and decolonization.

I guess I started to think about recreational wilderness, protected lands, parks and what that means when I attended a talk at the University of Waterloo the year before the pandemic–checks calendar–that’s 2019. The speaker was Kyle Whyte and his talk was called “Not Done Critiquing Wilderness Areas, National Parks & Public Lands.” He’s a professor at the University of Michigan and more recently also a member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council to the White House. Whyte is Potawatomi and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

After listening to Whyte’s talk I began to wonder about the ways I enjoy the land and the water while back country canoe camping. Aside from the very obvious and glaring issues of whose land the parks are on, that talk made me think about the way settler paddlers treat parks as pristine nature museums. We don’t see ourselves as part of nature. Instead we’re visiting it with the ideal of leaving it exactly as we found it. There’s no cutting trees, no fishing, no hunting. Instead we carry in dehydrated meal packages and carry out our garbage.

The take away lessons from Kyle White’s talk were more about policy and models of shared park management, less about individual behavior.

So I was happy to see some personal, rather than policy, advice on how to responsibly enjoy back country canoe camping as a settler Canadian.

Here’s the advice shared on Facebook by the Canadian Canoe Museum.

Learn the Indigenous language of the territory in which you’re paddling. What is the language? Learn some basic phrases. What are the names of the rivers and lakes you’re paddling on in those languages?

Know the treaty territory you’re paddling through. Print the text of the treaty, read it on your trip, and share it with other paddlers.

Build relationships.

Take action.

Learn the history and the stories

“The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.”
― Thomas King

“You have to be careful with the stories you tell. And you have to watch out for the stories that you are told.”
― Thomas King, 

Both quotes are from The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative.

So when I report back from our canoe trip, I’m also hoping to report back with some details about history, language, and story.