The Idle No More movement, and more recently the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, helped to raise awareness about Canada’s past and current status as a colonial state. It’s an ugly and disturbing reality that doesn’t fit well with our shared identity as a multicultural and welcoming country. Our history is both unsettling and important to address.
Like many Canadians, I am grappling to understand what reconciliation means and what to do. How can individuals make meaningful contributions? Where do we begin?
I got my start in an unexpected place: mountain biking and trail building.
B.C. is the spiritual home of mountain biking with thousands of trails that attract visitors from around the world. It is home to world-class riders and a robust community of creative and dynamic trail builders that have set the world standard for providing unforgettable riding experiences.
I love mountain biking. Like most riders, I ask myself questions about the trails I ride: who built them? What’s the story behind them? Inspired by Idle No More and the TRC, I felt compelled to delve further and ask myself: Are the trails we build and love to ride perpetuating colonialism? Could they be harnessed as a means for fostering reconciliation? In addition to being designed to test courage and skill, could they be built as a bridge between communities?
It was with these questions in mind that I formed the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Program (aymbp.ca) with a group of friends. Our goal was to share our passion for riding trails with indigenous youth and communities and hopefully gain some new perspective and understanding of what a post-colonial state might look like.
Over the past five years we have travelled all over the province, visiting dozens of First Nation communities facilitating riding clinics, teaching bike repair and maintenance, and hosting trail-building workshops. In each community we had the opportunity to connect with youth and people who are passionate about riding and building trails.
We shared in epic rides across sacred landscapes gaining a deeper appreciation and understanding of their commitment to protecting their heritage and reasserting their role as the caretakers and stewards of the land. We were shown an entirely different reality within indigenous communities. Though they struggle and are working to overcome the lasting impacts of colonialism and residential schools, we met people who refuse to see themselves as victims, who have a clear vision of who they are and what they need to survive and move forward into the future. We were shown a different vision for what this province and this country can be and our role within it.
The colonial project is about assimilation and erasure, removing indigenous people and cultures from the land. It has failed and always will. The First Nations of this land are still here, digging themselves out from the shadow of colonialism and they will never stop. To realize the promise and intent of reconciliation, it is up to the rest of us to decide whether the lives we choose, the trails we build and how we travel upon them support or hinder this process. For me the choice is clear: pick up a shovel and starting digging alongside. It’s not only made me a better rider, but also a better Canadian and a fuller human being. B.C.’s status as a world-renowned destination for trails and riding didn’t happen overnight and neither will reconciliation. Let’s keep digging, together.