By Patrick Lucas, MCIPP RPP, Registered Professional Planner
You know you’re doing something right when you arrive in a small community early on a cold, wet, rainy Saturday in June and there are fifteen young boys and girls waiting for you, impatiently.
“Where have you been? We’ve been waiting. Let’s go!” We’re actually ten minutes early. The kids swarm our car grabbing tools: Pick axes. Shovels. A chainsaw. Chaos. Someone is going to get hurt.
For the next several days some friends and I attempt to guide this frenzy of energy and enthusiasm through the forest, building a single track nature trail that will provide a space for the kids to ride their bikes, their very own jump track. This trail is happening because they went to their parents, their elders, their leaders and clearly stated what they wanted, what they needed. The community listened.
The big question for so many of us, particularly among non-Indigenous Canadians is what does reconciliation mean for us? What can we do?
For me, it started with a smaller, simpler question: what do you know about mountain biking? An elder asks me during a community planning workshop. “Our kids are doing it,” he explains. “Can’t leave a pile of dirt for five minutes without them building some scary looking jump. We don’t want them to stop. Keeps them away from drugs and alcohol. Be good if we could help them build a real trail. Can you help us?”
Of course I said yes. We built the trail: a smooth swooping descent that cuts down through the trees with carefully built features like jumps and berms that allows the kids to test their skills and courage. We watch the kids flying down, hooping and hollering, with huge smiles. I stand back and watch the faces of their parents beaming with pride. For years I have been seeking technical answers to community planning and here I am, covered in mud, and cheering. I know I am on to something special.
This is the birth of the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Program, a provincial initiative that works with First Nations, training kids to build trails, ride, and get outdoors and connecting with nature. We have built dozens of trails and bike parks in communities all over the province. In each community we dig, throw dirt, and carve paths while listening to our new friends and elders tell us the stories of their people and their relationship to the land. We learn that, for them, these trails are not just for fun, but their means for reconnecting and rebuilding the relationships that had been torn asunder by hundreds of years of genocide. These trails will take their kids back out on to the land, not only to attain greater health, but to regain their identity, culture, their language. We are helping them dig their way out from under colonization to their rightful place on this land.
All that time I had spent digging through theoretical models of community development and empowerment, desperately seeking the right questions that would lead to the right answers. When all I had to do was grab a shovel, and do exactly what the Boothroyd people did for their kids. Listen.
You can also follow our adventures on our blog: Riding Turtle Island
AYMBP Program Promotional video
Aboriginal Rider Profile: Finding Courage & Decolonization through Mountain Biking
All Trails are Indigenous: Trail building & Reconciliation in the Simpcw Nation
Patrick Lucas, MCIP RPP
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An award winning registered professional planner, a settler and aspiring ally to Indigenous communities, Patrick is passionately committed to fostering and supporting authentic reconciliation and the unsettling of Turtle Island. Over the past fifteen years Patrick has had the honour of working along side Indigenous mentors and teachers learning the pathways to build relationships between First Nations and non-First Nations based on trust and respect. As the Founder and Director of the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Program, Patrick has assisted numerous communities to develop trails, recreation, and tourism plans leading to enduring social and economic development.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and may not reflect the views and opinions of Reconciliation Canada.