Broadening perspectives on the outdoors

Broadening perspectives on the outdoors

Conservation Northwest / Oct 04, 2018 / Events

Restorative and centering. Challenging and rewarding. Healing and peaceful. Human experience and self-discovery.

By Heather Hutchison, Membership and events associate

These were words and feelings shared last weekend during some reflection on outdoor experiences. Conservation Northwest was fortunate to be a sponsor of the first-ever Refuge Outdoor Festival in Carnation, Washington, geared towards people of color (POC) and allies. Along with our staffer Laurel Baum, I had the opportunity to participate as myself and as a representative of Conservation Northwest.

Conservation Northwest asked attendees of the festival why conservation was important to them. Photo: Heather Hutchison

While the Festival was complete with art, music, sleeping bags and tents, it was also a safe space for important conversations about what it means to be a person of color in the outdoors, and a sincere reflection on what barriers prevent POC from getting outside. It was an emotional journey for many, a long-awaited respite for some and an enlightening experience for others.

Acknowledging Conservation Northwest’s historically white composition, it was my goal to share with the Festival attendees—who included POC as well as white allies—our organization’s efforts to be more diverse and inclusive.

Over the weekend, Conservation Northwest was there to listen and learn. Unsurprisingly, everyone we spoke with had some form of connection to the outdoors and to the environment, accompanied by a desire to protect and conserve our planet.

“I think it was really great to be able to support an event lead and organized by people of color, focused on their experiences in the outdoors,” said Laurel Baum, our Central Cascades Conservation Associate and Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project Coordinator. “We have a lot of work to do in the conservation movement to make all communities feel welcomed and that their voices are being heard as part of the discussion in the broader environmental movement.”

Conservation Northwest asked attendees of the Festival how their experience outdoors has been. Photo: Heather Hutchison

Barriers to accessing and enjoying the outdoors are much higher for POC, whether they be the high cost of gear, limited transportation options, lack of people to do it with or a historical fear and trauma of outdoor spaces.

Here are my biggest takeaways from participation in Refuge Outdoor Festival:

  • Be explicit.

    POC are used to being systematically and implicitly excluded, so be explicit in your efforts to be inclusive.

  • Treat people with dignity.

    Make the effort to understand peoples’ obstacles, fears and traumas. You may not share the same sentiments, but that does not diminish a person’s experience, their dignity or their right to be outside.

  • It’s not about intent, it’s about impact.

    Even if you don’t intend to treat POC differently in the outdoors, that doesn’t mean you aren’t negatively impacting their experience. Do what you can to improve other peoples’ time spent outside by listening.

Attendees at the Festival pose alongside our grizzly bear cutout. Photo: Heather Hutchison

For Conservation Northwest, Refuge Outdoor Festival was a reflection on the breadth of perspective people have on the outdoors. It was also a reminder that people of all backgrounds and orientations share the spaces where we recreate, enjoy the outdoors, and promote the conservation of wildlands and wildlife—we all deserve healthy landscapes. We are looking forward to continuing our efforts to learn and grow as an organization.

“On Friday night, a group called the Seven Generations Intertribal Culture Family sang songs and gave a performance where they welcomed participants from the audience to join them sharing the experience of their songs,” said Baum.  “I feel this is reflective of how we need be welcoming, more inclusive and listen to a broad spectrum of people’s experiences in outdoors and our conservation work, especially here in the Pacific Northwest.”

The work Conservation Northwest does to protect, connect and restore wildlands and wildlife benefits not only traditional conservationists, outdoor recreationists and wildlife enthusiasts, but also lends to the human experiences of healing and self-discovery that everyone seeks when they get outside.

We recognize that for long-term progress, conservation must go hand-in-hand with healthy communities. Learn more about our staff, about us, or our work