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Colour the Trails, a collective of BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ adventure seekers, held its first summer outdoor rafting trip of Ontario chapter’s inaugural year

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Rooted in social justice, Colour the Trails started as a form of reclamation – a way for the underrepresented to take up space in the outdoors and welcome those historically left out of these domains.Photography by Katherine Cheng/The Globe and Mail

Floating along a wide river in Brant, Ont., bright blue rafts can be spotted interrupting a mirror-like stretch of water. On one of these rafts is a group of diverse individuals, many of them stepping onto a raft for the first time and disrupting the flow in their own way as well.

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A guide gives Colour the Trails participants a rafting lesson before getting into the water of the Grand River.

Colour the Trails is a collective of BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ adventure seekers aiming to amplify Black, Indigenous and people of colour stories and voices, challenging the lack of inclusion and representation in the outdoor world. Rooted in social justice, Colour the Trails started as a form of reclamation – a way for the underrepresented to take up space in the outdoors and welcome those historically left out of these domains.

Started in British Columbia by Judith Kasiama from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a chapter also recently opened up in southern Ontario, a province where outdoor activities might not come as quickly to mind. Led by Brampton-raised Priya Moraes, this group is challenging how people perceive and interact with the outdoors in more ways than one.

“People say hiking is just hiking and canoeing is just canoeing. But when everyone in that space is white, the dominant culture is white,” Ms. Moraes said, pointing to how this can create barriers for those coming from diverse backgrounds, where their food or praying schedules may not be necessarily accommodated or welcomed. “For me, I would rather just create spaces for ourselves to begin with. … This is by the BIPOC community, for the BIPOC community. And we no longer have to mold ourselves into what whiteness expects of us. We can see ourselves in that space.”

Colour the Trails participants take a lunch break on an islet.
Participants steer the raft during Colour the Trails' first summer outdoor rafting trip.
Priya Moraes, leader of the Ontario chapter of Colour the Trails.

A 2021 Nature Canada study on race and nature found that lower rates of participation by racialized groups in nature across Canada and the United States could be attributed to a number of complex barriers ranging from socio-economic obstacles to the psychological discomfort of being in spaces seen as unfriendly or unwelcoming. In such cases, children of migrants may not have the resources or opportunities to engage in as many outdoor activities growing up, continuing this pattern between generations and into adulthood.

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Melissa Nadarajah, a Colour the Trails rafting participant, fills up her water bottle with water from a spring.

Melissa Nadarajah, one of the participants of the trip, experienced these initial barriers in her own journey towards the outdoors as well. Describing how the extent of her involvement with outdoor activities when she was younger was limited to after-school sports programs, she did not begin exploring much of the outdoors with her family until she got older. And even then, there were spaces that she felt she could not access without pre-existing knowledge due to this later start, such as water activities where swimming was required.

Reflecting on what the growing community meant to her, Ms. Nadarajah described taking part in the summer activity as “a sense of comfort,” as she spent the next day recovering from the physical demands of an eight-kilometre rafting trip. “It’s comforting to find a group of people who look similar to me, come from a similar background and trying something for the first time.”

“A lot of people just need that first step, for someone to say ‘you’re welcome and there’s more people like you,’” Ms. Moraes said.

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Colour the Trails participants practice paddling stroke styles.

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Flavy Moraes, Priya Moraes' mother, takes a break to cool off in the water.

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Two of the Colour the Trails rafting participants skip rocks.Katherine Cheng/The Globe and Mail

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