Issue 4: Plans Change
How Not To Be A Bullying Bitch in the Outdoors
September 12, 2019
From the pages of Issue 4: Plans Change
By kiona | @hownottotravellikeabasicbitch
From the creator of "How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch: Where Race and Travel Intersect"
Leave No Trace (LNT) has become the gold-standard organization for the entire outdoor industry, from non-profits to guides and outfitters to the average person frolicking in nature. These guidelines at first glance might seem beneficial for the general public and the environment. However, when we take a closer look at the cultural implications of these principles, we see that using LNT as a baseline and employing these rules in real life has led to unintended consequences––like straight-up racist harassment under the guise of LNT ethics.
Indigenous Peoples Don’t Need To Be Told To “Leave What You Find”
On a recent trip to Utah on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land with Alex Piechowski-Begay, a Navajo outdoors guide, I noticed signs next to the plants that were written in English, Latin, Hopi, and Navajo. They described the medicinal use of each one. I squealed with delight as he pointed them out. “I’m so happy they’re doing this and acknowledging the use for the plant AND in Indigenous languages. Wow! Way to acknowledge the people who have always lived here.” I mean, seriously, when was the last time you came across signage with a side of wokeness?
However, woke I was not. You see, he brought me here because he said that although it seems like progress, the land was stolen from the Navajo upon becoming established as a “protected” area. He posed the question: “Protected from whom?” The Navajo have used this land for medicine, firewood, and survival for millennia. They also used it to track wildlife and gain access to bodies of water. All of it has since evaporated thanks to uranium companies and LNT practices. The Navajo are now no longer able to forage off the land nor track wildlife nor have access to safe drinking water.
Let me simplify this for you. This land has been cared for by the Navajo for thousands of years. White settlers came, colonized, and destroyed the land. Now they have ironically created rules—or LNT guidelines—on how to preserve it. The original caretakers of this land, the Navajo, are being told what they can and cannot do. Does anything seem fucking backwards to you? “Leave What You Find” diminishes and invalidates the advanced knowledge and culture of Indigenous practices.
Let’s Go On A White Supremacy Road Trip
And that was just Utah. Let’s travel to the super bloom in California. The super bloom is a rare phenomenon when California poppies magnificently dot the hilly landscape, painting them brilliant colors of red and orange. I saw the whole thing blossom online and was eager to check it out. Then I spoke with Rebecca Macarro, a member of the Payómkawichum Nation, an Indigenous Nation of California. She explained to me that she led an Indigenous youth group on a trip to harvest the poppies. These poppies, as well as chia and other plants, are ancestral foods that have lain dormant for generations and are now sprouting to be eaten. This gathering has been practiced for thousands of years.
However, what was meant to act as an educational cultural trip ended up being a lesson in harassment and mansplaining when a White man in a Prius took it upon himself to get out of his car and be the nature police. His decision to yell at Indigenous youth about picking flowers, citing the LNT guideline of “Leave What You Find,” solidified his privileged position in White Supremacy. As in, you don’t need to wear a white hood and be a part of the KKK to exemplify your White Supremacy. Simply asserting your belief that these guidelines made by White Americans are more important than the cultural, spiritual, and religious practices and human rights of Indigenous Peoples of North America is asserting White Supremacy. These Indigenous children ancestrally have a right to this land, and their experience in the outdoors doesn’t need to be tainted by the defective opinions of White men.
These are only two examples of Indigenous Peoples across the United States experiencing unfair LNT guidelines that ostracize the way they live. And if the purpose of these guidelines is to preserve the environment for future generations, well, Indigenous Peoples have been doing that long before the Mayflower landed on North America. They have always been on the front lines of environmental movements. We just haven’t seen them.
When looking at the LNT guidelines and the intention to preserve the environment, were these rules made with Indigenous Peoples in mind? Or were they meant to also police the forgotten about and unconsidered Indigenous Peoples? Do we consider those who already had environmentalism built into their cultural practices and who have historically only had positive impacts on the environment? LNT is just one of the ways in which racist guidelines promote bullying from White communities that dominate the outdoors.
White People Need To “Be Considerate Of Others”
Now let’s travel to the Rocky Mountains. Two Black outdoor educators were leading a group of young Black men on a hike. These two leaders have won awards in outdoor education for championing programs for youth. On this day, they made everyone feel so comfortable that the group started to sing. How often do you hear people singing in the woods? Let alone men! These boys were rejoicing in the outdoors. Yet, they were met with “hush” and “shh” from nearby hikers, attempting to silence them with one of the seven LNT guidelines, “Be Considerate of Other Visitors.”
This same behavior was mimicked in Texas. I attended a conference when Yesica Chavez, a Latina outdoors educator, recounted her first experience in the outdoors. She said her family was unable to afford a fancy vacation so they decided to go camping instead, for the first time. They sat around talking, trying to figure out how to set up a tent, cook, and make a fire. A short time later, they were met with, “QUIET DOWN,” from a White man who decided to harass them on their camping grounds, again citing LNT guidelines of “Be Considerate Of Other Visitors.” The family promptly packed up their camping gear and left. Vacation over.
So, whose consideration is taking precedence here? Is nature meant to be enjoyed in silence or is nature meant to be enjoyed with singing and laughter? Who were these rules made for? Were they made with People Of Color (POC) in mind or for anyone who may recreate in the outdoors differently?
The Solution: Diversify The LNT Board & Staff
The fact that I have to write about this in 2019 is disgraceful. Diversity isn’t an option. It’s mandatory. At this point, White People should be reflecting on their positions of power and the effects they have on marginalized groups on their own.
When it comes to these guidelines, we have collectively failed to question who made them and who they were meant for. The LNT Board of Directors and staff is comprised primarily of White or White-passing members. So while we’d like to believe that the LNT guidelines are objective, they are based on White cultural norms. This lack of perspective has unfortunately led to consequences for those who are not represented. Rules for public spaces that attempt to protect the environment need to also intersect with a more holistic society and everyone who may recreate in the outdoors.
Things Can Change
With the creation of an advisory council of Indigenous and other POC leaders who can advise on updating LNT to be more inclusive, the outdoors can be a safe space for everyone. By involving POC, we can create sustainable solutions for both the environment and the public.