Creating Change Through Hiking and Healing

In the fall of 2019, at a creativity weekend retreat in Margaree, Cape Breton, four people with diverse backgrounds became fast friends over their shared love of the outdoors. The group, alumni Elorm Anyadi, Anas Ibrahim, Mike Morrison and CBU student Tara Lewis, all have a deep and spiritual connection with nature.

They started getting together for hikes and adventures around Cape Breton Island, and soon realized that what they were doing was more than just hiking and getting outdoors as the hikes began to take on a healing nature. Collectively, they have years of adventures around the Atlantic provinces and came to realize there was little to no representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) within the outdoor adventure sector.

They saw group hiking as an opportunity to create an environment to help. As the hikes began to take on a healing nature, there was also an opportunity to help educate and raise awareness on the segregation and oppression of BIPOC groups, leading to the creation of Adventures and Diversity.

“As a group, we all noticed an absence of people of colour that worked or featured in the adventure industry. We wanted to start the conversation to make a meaningful change; that is how we started,” says Elorm Anyadi. “We were making real progress, and after the death of George Floyd, we knew that we needed to do more and decided to use our healing hikes as a platform for change in systemic oppression and activism.”

As a response to the current elevation of deep grief and anger caused by systematic oppression and the role that racial discrimination has played in every facet of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, the hikes have taken on an activism and education role as well as a healing and spiritual purpose. Believing in the healing power of nature, the group is aiming to bring awareness to the systemic racism faced by BIPOC and to allow some comfort and support through these peaceful hikes. The hikes are also calling on allies of all races and cultures to give them the opportunity to learn directly from members of this group on how they can support the healing process.

Group member, Tara Lewis, says this project allows her to also express her culture as her way of healing and helping others heal as well. “In the Mi’kmaw culture, the land and Mother Nature play such an important role. We are the caretakers of the land, and land is our mother,” says Tara. “As a kid, I can remember going into the woods and purposefully getting lost just to work with mother nature to find my way home. Even at a young age, I remember finding peace in the woods and a sense of calm, and I want that for others as well in their healing journey.”

As for Whitney Pier resident, Mike Morrison, he wants to use this platform as a way to educate and teach youth about the impacts racism and stereotypes, whether intentional or not, can have on their peers and people around them. “As a person of colour, people I went to school with used to call me names, and they never took the time to ask me about my culture and background, and that was hard for me,” says Mike. “I want to teach youth that skin colour or culture doesn’t mean you can treat someone differently or make them less or more of a person. We want to start this at a young age so when people are middle age or older, they don’t have to learn a new way of thinking because, as we can see, that is not easy to do. Whether it was intentional or not, people realize that they have been part of the problem and that while they want to change and become an ally, that it may not be easy.”

While all group members come from different backgrounds and cultures, religion is also used as a way to heal within the group. “There is always an opening pray to help everyone set their intentions for the hike, and it doesn’t matter what religion does the opening prayer, as it is just another way to support people who may be different than us and learn from them,” says Anas Ibrahim, originally from Kenya and came to CBU in 2008. “We have also started holding a minute of silence of the peak of the hike to reflect and to pay respect to those who have lost their lives because of racism or oppression and who need guidance on their journeys.”

Since the hikes started in early summer, there have been five healing hikes – four in Cape Breton and one in Halifax.

The first healing hike was posted on social media only two days before the date and more than 40 people turn out for the socially distant hike. It was clear to the group that those who showed up wanted to find out how they can make a difference and how they can help end the systemic racism that exists today.

Elorm Anyadi says, “If you are worried about not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing about systemic racism or oppression, we are all there to learn and grow together. If you say the wrong thing, we will tell you and then show you how to grow and learn from that. The only thing you need to commit to is being respectful to everyone, and that’s how we start to break down barriers.”