(Photo credit: Casey Horner, @mischeviouspenguins)
At the end of April, about five weeks into the pandemic lockdown, Lakebound’s designer and my teammate, Dainise, sent me an email that said, “I've been trying to think outside the box for new accounts to follow on IG and realized that there are a bunch of people who enjoy the outdoors that we may not be reaching: people of color, "unlikely hikers" (the account we already follow), disabled people, LGBTQ+, and self-proclaimed fat folks. I think this can be a sensitive subject and I would hate to be exploitative in any way, but I feel strongly that we should have more diversity in our posts.”
She went on to say: “I recently followed several new accounts and one is an indigenous woman who messaged that she does videos on YouTube called Sovereign Stories that highlights 'indigenous land acknowledgment education.' It's an interesting take on things and I appreciate that she reached out. In video 34 of her series she talks about land acknowledgment and mentions a website for indigenous mapping which can help in at least trying to ID lands for original caretakers. What this means is using indigenous names for places whenever possible. I've noticed that Jenny Bruso of Unlikely Hikers does this in all of her posts and I've thought it was incredible.
“Mary, I wonder if it might be a worthwhile future project to take a handful of our most popular maps and create a second version with indigenous place names? I would be honored to do the history and redo them.”
I was all for it. I responded with enthusiasm, but also with the caveat that I didn’t want to be alienating or critical. I’d always kept Lakebound “non-political” and was very intentional about that. Lakebound is for everyone, I thought. I don’t want it to be divisive or alienating. Meanwhile, Dainise continued to search out and follow accounts that represented BIPOC exploring and sharing the beauty of the outdoors.
It was a primer for what was about to happen. The horrific murder of George Floyd and the backlash and protests happened just a few weeks later. On June 1st, 2020 the day before “Blackout Tuesday”, my team was asking me: ‘What will we post? Will we post at all?’ I had no answers. I had a lot of discomfort. I didn’t want to be “political”. I had to sit with this deep discomfort of looking at my very-white-company and decide which direction I was going. We are all women, we have LGBTQ representation but zero color. And zero discussion about it. Thankfully, I have people around me that pushed and encouraged me to see my blind spot in this area. I reluctantly posted a black square, reluctant not because I don’t support BLM, but because we are SO WHITE and I felt like I had no business saying much at all. It felt empty. The best I could do in the moment was commit to listening. To learning. To opening.
I will be ever grateful that Dainise had previously decided to follow so many accounts of BIPOC. It was like I was getting a movie reel of messages and content that I needed to see and that filled in a gap in my thinking and being.
I cannot know what it is like to be a BIPOC and feel excluded from the outdoors. From trails, from lakes, from the planet. My privilege had allowed me to think that “the lake is for everyone” but it’s not. My privilege had allowed me to think that I don’t want my business to be divisive or “rock the boat”. But without rocking the boat, my mission statement rings empty. Our system is rigged. Over and over and over the message comes through loud and clear that BIPOC do *not* feel included or welcomed on our trails or in our natural spaces. I’m still only a few weeks in but I know I’m changed. I know my business has changed.
I stand by Lakebound’s mission be a place of inclusion, connection and belonging. Water is healing, connecting and I believe we are hardwired as humans to feel calmer and more connected to each other when in its presence. We can disagree on nearly every issue and I will still believe that we are more alike than different. But to truly live this belief, I needed to take a stand on inclusivity. And I have. We are working daily on the goals we set forth on Blackout Tuesday. When I know better, I do better. I am still listening. I am still learning. I am still being opened. I am still being called to do better and be better. And I am committed to it. And I believe in Lakebound more than I ever have.
“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
― Edwin Markham