5 leaders growing indigenous participation in the outdoor industry
Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day—a day that precedes over Columbus Day
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I remember as a child coloring a picture of Columbus on a ship resembling the Mayflower on Columbus Day. I was extremely proud of my coloring skills, having no idea who Columbus was. I proudly showed my mom and thought, “It’s so good, she’s gonna put it on the fridge for all to see and admire.” Nope. I vividly remembered her ripping it apart and telling me, “In our house, we do not celebrate Columbus.” I was horrified.
That horror is still with me as an adult because I know now that man started the erasure of our lands, culture, language, and people. As a Navajo, an avid outdoors woman, and one who works closely with many outdoor companies, I believe it’s imperative for the outdoor industry to honor and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I also believe that members should seek out the ancestral history of the land in which they explore and play on. Who came before you? The sacred lands that you’re wandering on, who did it belong to? By asking yourself these question and finding the answers honors our people and our sacred lands.
Instead of honoring a man who started the worst genocide in American history, let’s honor the people who have and continue to work to preserve this beautiful land. Here are five Native people you might not know about who are pushing the boundaries and standing strong for our people in the outdoor industry.
Angel Tadytin, ambassador for Women Who Hike
Angel Tadytin is from the Navajo Tribe. She works as a hospice medical social worker in Page, Arizona. She grew up there, exploring the flanks of Lake Powell and the slot canyons that hid her people from Kit Carson and the Long Walk. Currently, she’s an ambassador for Women Who Hike, an organization empowering women on and off the trail. Not only does Tadytin get to share her favorite places on the reservation with fellow hikers, she gets the rare opportunity to educate them. When she leads hikes, she provides insight into the ancestral history of the land, the cultural components of the Navajo People, and the in-depth knowledge of why the land is sacred. After all, this is the land of her ancestors.
Christian Weaver, founder of Eastwoods
Christian Weaver, from the Shinnecock Nation, is the founder of Eastwoods, an outdoor gear company inspired by the art of the Eastern Woodland tribes. It brings light onto the flora and fauna of ancestral lands. Eastwoods also has a high philanthropic standard to serve indigenous communities by supporting Native women and girls in the outdoors, low income youth through Big City Mountaineers, and Indigenous people in the outdoor space. Once a competitive trail runner and mountain biker, Weaver is now working on his Masters of Indigenous Law through the University of Oklahoma. His hope is to advocate on behalf of Indigenous Nations to preserve and protect their land and water. You can find him wandering the woods around Denver or canoeing in the waters of his homeland, now called Long Island.
Erica Nelson, ambassador for Brown Folks Fishing
Erica Nelson, from the Navajo Tribe, currently works for National Outdoor Leadership School, a Wyoming-based non-profit that provides individuals with wilderness training and skills. She works within the marketing department with goals of building positive equitable spaces in the field with students, with her team she supervises, and with a focus on inclusion at heart in all marketing efforts. It’s imperative to her they teach upon the ancestral lands in which they train and teach on and to honor them and its people. She is currently building a more inclusive approach to fly fishing, as fishing has always been a way of life to many indigenous tribes. She’s currently working on a witty book about fish and is an ambassador for Brown Folks Fishing.
Verna Volker, founder of @Native_women_running
Verna Volker is a two-famed ultra runner and prepping for her third. She grew up on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Volker is highly driven and is a major encourager to other Native women runners through her Instagram account Native Women Running. This group was created out of frustration over the lack of Native women represented in the running world. She works hard to provide a voice to runners like herself and battles the everyday uphill of the lack of representation in the outdoor industry.
Vernan Kee, freelance graphic designer
Vernan Kee is from the Northern Navajo Reservation and is currently traveling the lands of his people in a van. He is a USMC Veteran and a freelance graphic designer, who channels his passion for the outdoors and land into his work. He has worked for many outdoor companies designing brand logos, shirts, and much more. Soon, he is joining the Military Outdoors with a group of Veterans to hike 100 miles of the Appalachian trail. After this endeavor, for the next year, he will be working with the Outward Bounds Southwest Backpacking and Rock Climbing Outdoors Educator Course.