This article is aimed at non-Indigenous people who enjoy outdoor recreational activities like canoeing, camping, hiking, biking and walking.

This piece was built in consultation with Indigenous grassroots leaders in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and across Treaty and unceded territory.

This is a living document and I welcome words of criticism and experience.

Why This Matters

When trekking, respecting Indigenous history and present relations to land and water are equally as important as packing your gear and knowing your canoe, bike and safety measures.

Prior to a trip, outdoor enthusiasts often focus on charting their course on a map and identifying a region’s landmarks and attractions.

The problem is that the Indigenous history of the land and its present significance to Indigenous communities are usually overlooked.

This is a problem because non-Indigenous people have a responsibility to respect inherent Indigenous rights to the land and water. This has to be taken into account in order to trek respectfully.

When trekking in Canada, odds are that the region you are travelling through has a rich Indigenous history, present and future.

They may be called provincial and national parks but this generally overlooks that these often-beautiful entities are developed and maintained by the Canadian state. The mere thought of a “national” park on traditional Indigenous lands can rightfully be hurtful to Indigenous communities.

What You Can Do

1. Start

Thinking, talking and writing about these matters are often complex and sensitive but it is important work that too easily gets neglected by non-Indigenous outdoors enthusiasts.

We have to start somewhere and I hope that River Left is a useful resource for fellow outdoors enthusiasts.

I will try to provide resources and tools to help us along.

2. Centre Indigenous voices

Interest in respecting Indigenous traditions and culture is rising thanks to movements like Idle No More.

This is generally a positive development but the burden for educating non-Indigenous people often falls upon Indigenous peoples themselves, who are asked to give workshops or engage in lengthy and often sensitive conversation.

It’s essential to centre Indigenous voices, but this has to be done in a respectful way.

3. Prioritize Indigenous Culture, Destinations, & Routes

The idea of treating Indigenous culture as tourism can be problematic, but done correctly, it can directly benefit Indigenous communities and improve your worldview in the process.

Indigenous Canada regularly updates their website and social media with things to do and destinations.

4. Ask Yourself These 5 Questions Regularly

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada has National Guidelines on Indigenous Cultural Experiences.

In the guidelines, the Association poses a set of questions to Indigenous tourism providers to insure services are being respectfully developed.

With slight alteration, these same questions apply to non-Indigenous people:

  1. Can I demonstrate the participation of and meaningful benefit to the Indigenous people and community?
  2. Is the Indigenous cultural content you’re engaging with done in an appropriate, respectful manner that follows all local protocols?
  3. Does the Indigenous community being portrayed have control over the content of the cultural programming?
  4. Does the content of the community portrayed reflect a responsibility to that community?
  5. Is the community involved in the delivery of the cultural programming to the visitor?

5. Learn and Practice Collectively

I enjoy trekking solo but learning and changing habits should be a collective act.

Learning about how to relate to the land and water as a non-Indigenous person is a shared responsibility that we are working on together.

Talk with friends, family members and fellow trekkers is a great way to learn and change habits.

6. Be Humble, Open to Criticism

I have only been thinking seriously about the colonial context of recreational outdoor activity since 2015.

Welcome criticism, teachings and conversation. Be open to learning, improving, being corrected or being called out.

7. Read Before you go Trekking

It’s important to read about the Indigenous history and present reality of the lands and waters you will be travelling through.

Try to find readings that are as rooted in the region’s local Indigenous context as possible.

I strongly recommend doing this reading prior to your trip.

There’s often so much work and fun to be had when camping that I rarely tend to read for long periods of time when camping.

Reading before you go insures that you have some knowledge of the region before you go.

8. Read as Camping Activity

Take turns reading short stories, poems, or essays by Indigenous authors while sitting around the campfire or beach can be very rewarding.

Collected volumes like The Winter We Danced or Manitowapow are excellent because they contain such beautiful first-person narratives, accounts, essays, poems and art.

Once you’ve read a piece, or looked at at piece of art, talk about it with your camping partners or children.

Some questions you can ask yourself if camping alone or ask your camping partner(s):

  • What do you think about this piece?
  • What is the writer/artist trying to say?
  • How can you compare your experience to theirs?

9. Have Serious Fun

It is important to face the ongoing legacy of colonialism and take it seriously. We also engage in outdoor recreation primarily because it is pleasant and often fun.

A friend introduced me to the term “serious fun.” Outdoor recreation should strike that balance.

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