The Fable of the Nice Bike Savior
Gentle wisps of steam rose up from the mound of moist, loamy earth, and the scent of rotting biomass, birch needles and freshly baked mud tickled my nostrils. I pulled clumps of mud and sodden leaves from round a sequence of entangled tree roots, the gnarled limbs and knuckles of an outdated birch rising greater than 100 toes above me. Dislodging brilliant brown and pink mineral soils, I uncovered a posh net of rhizomes mingling with fungi, every depending on the opposite for vital vitamins. I marveled on the delicate stability.
“Hey, Seme7uy,” a voice referred to as out behind me—my buddy and mentor, Tom Eustache. “You’re purported to be digging, not enjoying within the filth.”
Tom is the Director of Public Works for the Simpcw First Nation, a individuals who have lived within the hills and valleys surrounding British Columbia’s North Thompson River for hundreds of years. The day’s challenge was a recent ribbon of singletrack snaking down a small mountain overlooking the river, and I wasn’t simply enjoying. By digging out the roots, I hoped to get a greater concept of their extent; with that data, we may use rocks and filth to construct a ramp over the roots hidden underground and defend the tree and soil. It’d additionally make for a greater trip.
Seme7uy—pronounced “sa-ma-oh-ee”—is a Secwepemctsin phrase that Tom and his nephew Leon began calling me after I got here to work with the Simpcw Nation six years in the past. I used to be excited in regards to the identify, seeing it as a sign that I had, maybe, discovered my correct place locally. Then I requested what it meant.
“Seme is our phrase for ‘white man,’” Tom defined. “Seme7uy means…”
“Actually white,” Leon completed, little doubt a reference to my pasty white complexion, burned pink within the hazy summer season solar. It was a delicate jab and a reminder of how I first got here to be right here: the loopy white man who confirmed up in the future, raving about bikes and trails and the way I used to be going to avoid wasting their folks.
A number of years earlier, I had created the Indigenous Youth Mountain Bike Program (IYMBP), a nonprofit group with a easy objective: Get Indigenous youth on bikes, outdoor and residing wholesome, energetic lives. Using bikes had all the time been a central a part of my very own life; it was how I discovered a way of connection and belonging, made pals, constructed group. I needed to share that keenness and assist a couple of children alongside the best way.
My true motivation went a lot deeper than that. For years, I had a rising sense that one thing was essentially improper with my nation and our relationship with Indigenous peoples. It wasn’t till I used to be in college that I began to be taught the true extent of the duplicity and betrayal wrought upon the unique peoples of the Americas: land clearances and theft, hunger and bioterrorism. The destruction of their language and tradition. The systemic kidnapping of kids compelled into residential faculties, stripped of their identities, and topic to psychological, bodily and sexual abuse.
As soon as I realized these truths, I may not flip away. I knew I needed to do one thing. Sadly, my education didn’t present any clue as to what that one thing ought to be. So, I turned to the one factor that has all the time sustained me: bikes.
For months I traveled throughout the province, assembly with any First Nation that may grant me an viewers. I hoped to discover a group that may share my imaginative and prescient for making a mountain bike Shangri-La, a spot the place folks from all around the world may come collectively to construct trails and share rides.
The response I obtained was not encouraging.
“Why would we wish extra outsiders on our lands?” an Elder requested me. “We use our trails for looking, for gathering medication, for our ceremonies and traditions. The land is our mom; it’s not for white folks to play on.”
“Each time seme involves our land, they all the time say they’re going to avoid wasting us,” mentioned one other Elder. “However what they actually need is to take or construct: timber and assets, shipped out on roads, railways, pipelines and energy strains. Now you need trails? How is that going to profit our folks?”
I didn’t have any solutions.
I used to be prepared to surrender when a buddy informed me about Tom Eustache and the Simpcw Nation. “They’re a mountain bike nation,” he mentioned in hushed tones, as if he have been letting me in on a secret. “They’ve embraced trails and using the identical approach their ancestors embraced horses greater than 100 years in the past. Everybody locally rides. It’s important to see it for your self.”
I used to be intrigued; maybe this was the place I had been in search of, and I managed to attach with Tom and organize a go to. He was sort sufficient to take me out for a trip. That they had trails: tight, hardpacked recreation paths that weaved by way of dense stands of spruce, birch and hemlock. The paths have been tough, reminding me of the steep fall strains I constructed with my pals as a teen, however that simply made them really feel rawer and extra genuine.
“Once we’re not using, we’re constructing,” Tom informed me. “We’re out right here each evening after work and on the weekends.”
It wasn’t simply Tom, both. Everybody was concerned: elders, youth and leaders, all working collectively within the woods. This, I assumed, was what I had been trying to find—the place the place I may make my mountain bike imaginative and prescient a actuality.
Earlier than I may launch into my common gross sales pitch, outlining my plan for his folks and his land, Tom interrupted me by putting a shovel in my hand. “No dig, no trip,” he mentioned. “You wish to play with us; first, you set within the work.”
Over the subsequent a number of years, I constructed path alongside Tom and the Simpcw group. We introduced in professionals reminiscent of Thomas Schoen, an advocate and grasp builder from Williams Lake, British Columbia, and Mark Wooden, previously of the North Shore Mountain Bike Affiliation. However the true work occurred each time I returned to the Simpcw Nation, one thing I did as usually as I may.
On every go to, I sat with Tom, his household and his folks and listened to their tales. Tom shared how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police compelled the Simpcw folks to desert their lands at gunpoint and stroll practically 200 miles by foot to the reserve; how governments and companies stole their huge territories and plundered them for assets; and the way their kids have been taken to residential faculties, the place they have been forbidden to make use of their language and suffered horrible abuse.
Then Tom and Leon informed me how mountain biking and journey recreation are linked with this colonial legacy.
All through British Columbia and throughout Canada, recreation and journey sports activities have supported and benefited from colonialism and the erasure of Indigenous peoples from the land. Nationwide parks, ski resorts, bike parks, golf programs, in style climbing areas and mountain bike trails have usually been constructed on Indigenous lands, with out session and in opposition to the needs of native Indigenous Nations, undermining their rights and land claims. When Indigenous peoples have protested in opposition to these incursions, they’ve been attacked, arrested and imprisoned. At any time when the outside recreation group ignores these realities in pursuit of journey, it turns into one other impediment Indigenous peoples should navigate to say their rights and observe their tradition and relationship with the land
For Tom and the Simpcw folks, the paths are about rather more than recreation and enjoyable. They’re an emblem of how, as a folks, they’ve endured and survived. How they by no means gave up and stored preventing to say their rights and title and reclaim their creator-given function because the caretakers and stewards of their land. Tom and Leon are constructing trails and digging their folks out from the shadow of 150 years of colonial genocide.
I spotted that my strategy to using had change into shallow and superficial, dominated by a egocentric want to flee as a right of the impacts it will have on Indigenous peoples. My delusion because the Nice Bike Savior was designed to absolve emotions of misplaced guilt and keep away from addressing the underlying system of colonialism that helps the recreation sector.
Working with Tom allowed me to show and study these roots.
“It’s all about relations,” Tom informed me as we dug alongside each other. “All the things we do—once we dig, trip, harvest vegetation or animals—we all the time take the time to cease and take into account our relationships: to the land, the animals, our folks. Once I get on my bike, that’s what I’m excited about. When all these issues are cared for, I do know I’m going to have an epic trip.”
When strolling by way of a forest, it’s straightforward to focus solely on the grandeur of the timber. But it surely’s the unseen relationships, the webs of rhizomes and fungi, that permit the forest to thrive and flourish past what anyone organism may obtain by itself. I’ve come to the conclusion that we, as a mountain bike group, have a selection: Do we wish the game we love, the paths we trip, to change into a spot of colonial erasure? Or will we wish to be part of one thing larger, one thing that brings folks collectively?
The Indigenous Youth Mountain Bike Program has advanced. We not view using and trails as a way for “saving” Indigenous peoples; they know their wants and are actively working to create prosperity for his or her folks and assert their rights and title to their lands and territories.
As a substitute, this system has change into a way to realign IYMBP with their trigger and to disrupt the colonial legacy of recreation and journey sports activities. We work with First Nations on the path of their Elders and hereditary chiefs. We practice their youth to construct trails that serve their wants and their folks. We work with native mountain bike golf equipment to foster respect for Indigenous protocols and uphold Indigenous rights and title. We offer assets for path golf equipment across the province to enhance their relations and foster genuine reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Lately, we accomplished a doc referred to as “Working in a Good Manner,” with suggestions and finest practices for transferring ahead. Our recommendation to mountain bikers seeking to trip on Indigenous lands: Analysis and educate your self about our space’s historical past and the locations we stay and play on. Take heed to Indigenous voices and communities, and uphold Indigenous rights and title. And, most significantly, when an Indigenous group says “no” to using or constructing a path and as an alternative asks we keep out of an space for cultural or environmental causes, settle for it and help them of their efforts to guard the land. Their land.
Again on that ribbon of path above the North Thompson River, Tom and I completed constructing the rock ramp over the birch tree roots. I stood as much as admire our handiwork: a strong basis and the tree and its roots absolutely protected. It wasn’t excellent, however much better for using.
“Alright, seme7uy,” Tom mentioned. “Good job!”
Leon appeared at my aspect, and we watched Tom making his approach up the path for a take a look at run.
“It’s ‘Actual White,’” Leon mentioned. “Seme7uy means ‘Actual White.’”
I stayed quiet, unsure I understood the distinction.
Seeing my confusion, Leon continued. “When white males first got here to our land, the fur merchants initially appeared OK,” he mentioned. “Unusual maybe, however not harmful. All they appeared to care about was buying and selling, getting furs. They didn’t intrude in our enterprise; they have been respectful, for essentially the most half. Later, extra white folks got here, however they have been totally different. They interfered with every little thing, disrespected our methods, stole our land. Our folks couldn’t perceive why they have been so totally different.
“We confer with these individuals who got here earlier than because the Actual Whites. We all the time hope the seme can return to these methods.”
Leon paused as Tom dropped in. He hit the ramp, caught air and even managed a bit of tail whip earlier than coming down on the trail and skidding to a cease. “A lot enjoyable!” he yelled in triumph. “Seme7uy, you’ve received to trip this with me!”