What do you know about mountain biking?
This is the question put to me by the Band Manager during a coffee break. I was facilitating a strategic vision and strategic planning workshop for the Boothroyd Indian Band, a small Nlaka’pamux community located in the Fraser Canyon approximately 75km north of Hope, BC. The Chief and Council and staff were spending the day shut up in a room to discuss their vision and plans for development for the coming year.
I hadn't been expecting the question. I've always considered myself a rider. I've been mountain biking since I was thirteen when my father purchased a set of Canadian Tire specials for my brother and I. We were living and Calgary and we used our bikes as a means for freedom, getting out and exploring the parks and woods around our suburban neighbourhood.
It became a lifelong passion. Everywhere I've ever lived, I've always used mountain biking to get out and explore, gain a sense of place and belonging, and build a sense of community. Beyond that, however, I have never engaged in the sport on any kind of professional or even athletic level. I never worked in the industry. I've been in exactly two races: the Gear Jammer in Squamish where I came in almost dead last, and the Burnt Bike Challenge in Burns Lake, where I came in absolutely dead last. (Though I could have been second last, except I got lost and took a wrong turn.) For me, mountain biking had always simply been about getting outside in the forest, exploring, and having fun with my brother and friends.
I had to admit then, that I didn't know very much.
I assumed that the reason the Band Manager was asking likely had to do with tourism. Tourism planning for community and economic development was an area I had been involved in for quite sometime, and every once in a while someone would bring up the idea of mountain bike tourism.
Whenever this occurred I was always somewhat skeptical. Tourism, as a means for economic development, can be very tricky. Especially when working with small Indigenous communities that are struggling with high unemployment.
Generally speaking, unless you’re talking about cruise ships, or large bus touring companies, tourism is about small business development, entrepreneurs. It’s a lifestyle decision. People go into tourism because it allows them the opportunity to be their own boss and do something they love. It rarely has to do with large programs, extensive employment and revenues that most communities are looking for. This is particularly true for mountain biking. For the most part, people get involved in mountain bike tourism because they love riding and they want to find a way to make a living doing it.
In the few times I had been asked about mountain bike tourism I would simply ask, Does anybody in the community ride?
Having local champions and people who are passionately committed to the idea of creating a local mountain bike scene are essential for the development of any recreational or economic opportunities. There are few successful mountain bike destinations that haven’t been built upon the tireless efforts of groups of volunteers who build the trails and infrastructure that eventually creates a destination that attracts riders and visitors. They create the culture and the experience that people come for.
Aboriginal tourism is a massive industry in BC and numerous communities are experiencing great success, including in adventure and eco-tourism. Furthermore, there are many Indigenous people involved in the mountain bike sector as world-class riders, as well as trail builders and guides, tourism operators, shop owners among many other ventures.
However, in the few conversation I’d had regarding mountain bike tourism, there hadn’t been anybody in the community that anyone could identify who were involved in the development of trails and mountain biking. As a result, the idea would be included in a strategy report as a foot point and then usually forgotten.
Boothroyd was going to change everything.
|Boothroyd youth & their 'sick' tricks|
Our kids are doing it, the Band Manager explains to me. They are riding all over the place. We can’t leave a pile of dirt of dirt for five minutes without them building some crazy looking jump out of it. They’re taking wood from people’s fences, yards and fire wood shacks to build their stunts. They’ve been digging dirt away from all the fire hydrants because it’s the only soft, workable soil they can find in the community. And then they’re building their jumps on the roads with cars speeding by. We’re worried about somebody getting hurt.
We don’t want them to stop riding. We don’t want them to stop building their jumps and stunts. When they’re doing that they’re outside, they’re exercising. We hope that they’re keeping busy enough that they aren’t doing drugs or drinking alcohol. We just want to figure out a way so that it’s a least somewhat safe. We were thinking we could build them a bike park.
|Boothroyd Youth Launching Off a Gap Jump|
Can you help us?
I live for those words. It had been a while since I’ve heard them.
I went in to community planning because I wanted to make a difference. As a child of the environmental age, I have committed to my life to being a catalyst: assisting, empowering and enabling communities across Canada and around the world to become healthier, resilient and sustainable.
For the previous five years I worked in what could be colloquially described as the ‘Indian Industry’: a multi-billion dollar industry that involves providing services to and making money from First Nation communities.
I worked for a progressive firm that has operated successfully within that space for more than forty years. An engineering, architecture and planning consultancy, they can count the number of Indigenous communities they haven’t worked with in the province on the fingers of one hand. They have built dozens of schools, community halls, health centres, government buildings, roads, homes and the civil infrastructure that form the foundation for hundreds of communities. The planning group, of which I was a member, is a group of passionate and committed people dedicated to assisting First Nations to realize their visions for development and prosperity. It was a dream job and I threw myself into it.
Over the seven years that I held the position I gradually began to experience a growing sense of unease and discomfort with the role I was playing and the system that I had become a part of. As a consultant, I quickly learned there is a very particular dance you must learn in order to create a space between the drive for corporate profits, the bureaucratic machinations and demands of the department of Indian Affairs – which changed to Aboriginal Affairs and is now Indigenous Affairs – and the actual needs of the communities. It wasn’t long before I felt bogged down in a cycle of writing proposals, securing funding, writing reports that, more often than not, would end up sitting un-read on someone’s desk. And I would be off writing more proposals. The cycle would continue and it became harder and harder to pinpoint any difference it was actually making.
I felt disconnected from my work, my clients, and most importantly, the communities I was supposed to be working for.
I felt stuck, trapped, feeding a relentless, insatiable machine. No matter how I long I worked with the communities, even those as friendly and welcoming as Boothroyd, I always felt like an outsider, the white consultant. None of this had anything with why I had become a planner.
Well? The band manager asked. Can you help us?
I knew that I had to try.
Click here for Part Two
Click here for Part Two