Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival speaker Larissa Crawford zooms in on inclusion

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      Across North America, it’s routine to find white people at campgrounds and on hiking trails and ski hills. It’s not nearly as common to encounter Black folks, Indigenous people, or people of colour in those spaces.

      It doesn’t have to be this way, according to antiracism researcher Larissa Crawford. The 27-year-old founder of the Indigenous and Black-owned Future Ancestors Services tells the Straight that there are many reasons behind why Black and Indigenous people don’t always feel welcome engaging with the outdoors.

      “We see so many people told that you don’t belong out there—or being questioned, or seeing racism on the trails—all things I’ve experienced as well,” Crawford says by phone.

      There’s also traditionally been a dearth of BIPoC people in advertisements highlighting camping equipment and winter sports. Crawford, an avid outdoor enthusiast, says groups like Colour the Trails—a collective of BIPoC and LGBTQ2S+ adventure seekers—are trying to change this, advocating for inclusive representation in outdoor spaces.

      However, Crawford, who’s of Jamaican and Métis heritage, also points out that there’s a historical basis behind the exclusion. According to her, coming to terms with “ancestral accountability” can put people in a better position to understand how actions and inactions are shaping their current reality.

      “For example in Canada, our relationship to land as Indigenous peoples was a threat to the colonial state,” Crawford explains. “Holding land as a collective was a threat to the colonial state. So our relationship to land has been and continues to be very intentionally attacked.”

      From her examination of history, she’s well aware that Indigenous people in Canadian history were systematically removed from the land and placed on reserves under the Indian Act.

      She also points out that the colonial state encouraged private property ownership and granting people and companies access to resources. That’s not as easy to do when land is owned collectively, as it was by Indigenous peoples.

      Crawford says that ancestral accountability involves giving a great deal of thought to the various actions and inactions of our personal ancestors, our collective ancestors, the ancestors of the original caregivers of the land we exist on, and the ancestors of the settlers of this land.

      “By doing so, we are better positioned to understand how our actions and inactions are shaping reality not only today but for future generations,” she says.

      Video: Larissa Crawford spoke to Flare magazine last year about the importance of having mentors that look like you.

      She emphasizes that the colonial state also forcibly removed people of African ancestry from their ancestral lands. 

      “In this case, we were stolen from our land and brought to completely new land,” Crawford says. “And so I find it very empowering to understand that history.”

      The living legacy of colonialism, she says, is that many Black people can feel that they still don’t belong in nature even though people in Africa are deeply connected to the land. So, in a way, reconnecting with nature can be viewed as an act of decolonization.

      “We aren’t told we belong there,” she says of Black people in North America. “We don’t see ourselves reflected in those spaces.”

      On March 2, the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is drawing attention to this issue at an event called Colour the Trails at the Rio Theatre. Presented by Liv Cycling, Crawford will be the keynote speaker.

      At Colour the Trails, the festival will also screen three films focusing on people of different backgrounds enjoying the outdoors, including the world premiere of “The Black Foxes”. Director B. Monét’s 15-minute short film celebrates the“unapologetically Black” international cycling collective known as the Black Foxes.

      The Black Foxes are featured in a VIMFF film of the same name.

      Also playing that night is “Ascend: Reframing Disability in the Outdoors”, a 10-minute film directed by Faith E. Briggs focusing on one-legged outdoorsman Vasu Sojitra. He’s striving to bring an intersectional perspective to the outdoors. He’s also a wickedly successful climber, having ascended Wyoming’s Grand Teton unassisted.

      In addition, Sojitra skis in the mountains of Montana unassisted, even pulling off a 720-degree spin.

      The third film is director Anne Cleary’s 35-minute “The Approach”, an action-oriented skiing and snowboarding movie shining a light on people of colour, women, and adaptive athletes.

      Looking for inspiration? Watch "The Approach Gallery" at the Rio Theatre on March 2.

      Four days later on March 6, Crawford will be on a virtual VIMFF panel focusing on diversifying storytelling, which is presented by Creative BC.

      “It’s going to be really relevant to this idea of telling stories—communicating stories in authentic ways but also in decolonized ways,” she promises. “So that’s going to be a really good session for anyone interested in that.”