Saturday, May 16, 2020

Diversity on the Trail, Diversity in Nature, and Diversity in Exploration

I was recently emailed and heartily critiqued after providing an online Zoom presentation on our #Hike4Birds for advocating that we need more multiculturalism and more diversity in those we are attracting into nature, into birding, and into the sciences. 

The author of the email very bluntly stated that we “need to dial it back a little”, commenting that “there are too many opinions and attitudes”, that “they were sick of tolerating diversity and and foreigners and people who are different” and that “perhaps you needed to rethink promoting diversity so much”.  They went on to claim that in “Canada there isn’t enough room for so many different people”, “especially all these sorts that can’t even figure out who they are or who they are sticking it into.”  They concluded by saying “now is not the time for foreigners and others.  Now is the time for normal Canadians.”

Well this is not the first time we have received these types of comments and, at least online, these types of extreme attitudes seem to be on the rise, so we felt it was time to address them as best as we can. 
Generally speaking, we both find these types of confrontations and questions in this day and age to be stunning.  In responding to these types of comments I generally don’t know where to begin, so please accept my apologies if what follows is a little rambled and passionate. As I do feel very passionately about increasing diversity in the outdoors and ensuring that everyone knows and feels that nature I is accessible to them.

To begin, lets be very clear – I’ve been out in Canada for a while now.  Across Canada, in its wildernesses, its forests, in its meadows, its marshes, on its country lanes, on its trails, its roads and highways, deep into the backwoods and in the Boreal Forest and I can absolutely guarantee you that there is more than enough room for all of us.   Even in the crowded suburbs of our largest cities there is room.  Room for people of different cultures, faiths, and identities.   Canada is a nation blessed with many many things – including lots of space. 

Second, I am a scientist and ecologist and so, sorry, but you aren’t going to convince me of the virtues of monocultures and the supposed dangers of diversity.  Nature informs who I am – my ideas, my identity and my research.  And nature is pretty clear, nature thrives on diversity, complexity and a vast array of possibilities.  In fact Ecosystems crash when they lack variety and diversity.  We don’t need monocultures, we in fact desperately need diversity of all sorts to survive and thrive. 

Third, far too many messages that we now receive talk about what is ‘normal’ and ‘normalicy’. Well, I don’t even know what ‘normal’ is supposed to be.  In fact, from my perspective whatever “normalicy” is or is supposed to be isn’t cutting it.  Look around and judge for yourself.  Are people generally happier these days?  Has the acquisition of plenty made the world better?  Does staying online longer and longer make us more connected?  Do the goals of our society as a whole make sense on a regular basis?  From what I can see, ‘normalicy’ has not only gotten us into this mess, but it is failing to produce the solution.   Let’s be honest, today we have big problems facing us in our families, our communities, in the environment and complex issues confronting all of us in the world.  So we need all the perspectives, ideas, and voices we can find adding their uniqueness into the conversation to find a new set of imaginings and approaches to the challenges facing all of us today. We absolutely need alternative ideas.   I’ve been told I’m smart, after all I have a PhD and have published on things, but you know what?  I don’t have any of the solutions we are looking for.  It is one of the reasons I am out there hiking trying to make sure that whomever the individual is whose insights and ideas can help us knows that they are entirely welcome to stand up and join in. 

This isn’t the Victorian Age, I’m not waiting on the person smoking a pipe and wearing spectacles to discover the answer.  I am, out here trying to show that there is more than enough room at the table and in the conversation for the non-binary individual with the short spiky hair, tattoo, and tablet to show me how their unique vision of the world can help us move forward and help us address the challenges we all face today.  

Nature is not for me, or you, but for all of us.  Canada is and must be for all of us.  

We have said it time and time again on our trek, in our presentations, and we will continue reiterating that nature is right outside all of our doorsteps.  Nature exists from our backyards to the Boreal.  You don’t have to be a professional athlete to go out into it, you don’t need special skills, or expensive equipment to enjoy the outdoors.  You don’t need to be a particular type of individual or have vast education.  You need curiosity and passion.  With these two things EVERYONE and ANYONE can get outdoors, can be a scientist and is an explorer.  EVERYONE. 

One of our primarily interests and goals in hiking across Canada has been and will continue to be to encourage youth to reconnect with nature as well as to dramatically expand upon the traditional attitude that it is only specific peoples, with certain backgrounds, educations, attitudes and looks, and identities that belong outdoors and in the sciences.  We both whole heartedly and unreservedly believe in expanding the multiculturalism and diversity of individuals who become interested in Canada’s Natural beauty, the Sciences, and Exploration.  It is through diversity that we can achieve new imaginings of our identities, communities and ways of critically thinking about the challenges facing our environment.  Other people’s identities does not negate them from being curious, being insightful, being a scientist, or being an explorer – but it might give us the unique perspective or radical innovation that we desperately need right now. 

When you see the state of birds in North America, when you see the projections for our environment, when you see the effects of Global Pandemics on our society, and when you realize the enormity of the challenges that face us in this world - there is no denying that we need all the perspectives that we can gather. 

To anyone who doesn’t feel that they fit in, trust me that there is always a place on the trail or watching the bird-feeder for you – trust me there are a ton of people waiting there to cheer you on. 


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