Enough outdoors to go around: Refugee prompts retailer to rethink advertising

Judith Kasiama has always loved nature and spending time in the outdoors.

As a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as Zaire at that time, she could walk through the lush rainforest, swim in the river or watch the tropical storms.

Her family fled the country in 1997 when it became unstable after the Rwandan genocide.

“I know what war is like. I know what it’s like to go several days without food or water, because there were bombs being blown outside,” she told a forum on diversity in the outdoors at the Banff Mountain Film Festival this fall.

Kasiama’s family made its way to South Africa, then Australia, California, Connecticut, New York and Boston before receiving refugee status in Canada and settling in Hamilton, Ont. She now lives in Vancouver, where she can again hike, swim and watch storms.

Last March, the 29-year old — who runs a group called Black People Hike: Vancouver — called out several retailers on social media for their lack of diversity in advertising campaigns.

It led to an open letter from the CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, titled: Do White People Dominate the Outdoors?

“If you consider every advertisement you’ve ever seen for skiing, hiking, climbing and camping, you might think that’s the case,” David Labistour wrote in October. “It isn’t true at all, and it’s part of a bigger problem.”

Labistour said his letter received more response than a controversy over the retailer selling outdoor equipment brands linked to a U.S. gunmaker after a mass shooting in Florida.

He admitted that the retailer hasn’t represented the diversity of Canadians and is working to include people of colour in its ads.

“Sometimes we don’t recognize the inherent racism in the country,” said Amil Reddy, co-ordinator of MEC’s Outdoor Nation campaign to get more young Canadians outdoors. “More often than not, it’s not the folks we were hoping to represent.”

As a queer person of colour, Reddy said there’s enough outdoors to go around for everyone.

“Some groups need a little more support,” said Reddy, who noted that MEC brought Kasiama on as an ambassador as part of its diversity campaign.

Other retailers are also responding to the campaign, but it’s an issue that isn’t unique to businesses.

In Banff National Park, where 36 per cent of visitors are from somewhere other than Canada or the United States, there’s a concerted effort to address diversity among tourists but also Canadians.

“There’s a lot of people who are from Canada who may have trouble understanding English or French as well,” said Greg Danchuk, a Parks Canada visitor experience manager in Banff.

“We don’t just think of overseas or international. We think of people who may not be able to communicate in English or French as a first language.”

Danchuk said Parks Canada offers a free pass to new Canadians for a year and there are learn-to-camp programs, which provide gear and tips. The national parks also have started to use symbols rather than words to help visitors learn about safety and wildlife.

“You have to put some words up there,” Danchuk said. “Some of it needs explanation but, for the most part, to keep people safe and keep wildlife safe at the same time, we can use symbols, point out what they can and can’t do.”

Officials send information in other languages to any tour groups ahead of time, he added.

Kasiama, who’s planning to do a master’s degree on diversity in the outdoors, said she’d like to see more outdoor education taught in schools. She said it also would go a long way for new Canadians.

“You’re not just educating children, but you are also educating the families through the children. It’s a win-win situation.”

Kasiama said her childhood, which included eating food from the land, fostered her love of the outdoors.

Nature has helped her heal from her experiences as a refugee and can help other immigrants who have faced the same things, she suggested.

“You never get over the trauma that you see as a child, in terms of war,” she said. “For me, just being in the outdoors and being in nature was the cheapest form of therapy.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Retired city manager Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the Molly Banister Drive right-of-way at Tuesday's public hearing. He warns of future gridlock if the extension is removed by city council. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Former Red Deer city manager warns killing the Molly Banister Drive extension is ‘a terrible mistake’

Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the road alignment at next week’s public hearing

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

A Red Deer County man was arrested for drug possession by Innisfail RCMP on April 19. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Property crime and drugs top Red Deer RCMP priorities in new plan

2020-2022 Policing Priorities Plan going to city council on Monday

RCMP estimate about 500 people gathered on the weekend near Garrington Bridge along the Red Deer River, in a July 28, 2020 story. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Second person charged for alleged assault at anti-racism rally in Red Deer

A second person is facing charges following an alleged assault during an… Continue reading

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vice-president Bonnie Gustola criticized provincial government layoffs at a rally that drew more than 80 people at City Hall Park on Friday.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
More than 80 rally in Red Deer against government health, education cutbacks

Rally at City Hall Park organized by the Council for Canadians

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

kk
Don’t try to teach a turtle tricks

I got Smokey at Woolworths. Woolworths was an awesome department store downtown,… Continue reading

New voluntary measures, including the encouragement of more mask wearing, have been introduced in the Edmonton health zone. “Red Deer has been very fortunate to have relatively low case numbers . . . relative to the rest of the province and the country,” says Mayor Tara Veer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
POLL: Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in Game 3 of the baseball World Series Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Inter Miami defender Ben Sweat, left, and Montreal Impact attacker Maximiliano Urruti fight for the ball during their MLS soccer match, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Rested Montreal Impact looking to collect points with big finish to regular season

Rested Montreal Impact looking to collect points with big finish to regular season

Mariah Bell of the United States, competes during women's short program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Nathan Chen dominates again in Skate America short program

Nathan Chen dominates again in Skate America short program

Lanto Griffin putts on the ninth hole during the second round of the Zozo Championship golf tournament Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Thomas has a fast start for a 65 and a 1-shot lead at Zozo

Thomas has a fast start for a 65 and a 1-shot lead at Zozo

Mariah Bell of the United States, competes during women's short program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Bell, Tennell go 1-2 in Skate America short program

Bell, Tennell go 1-2 in Skate America short program

Most Read