Voices from BIPOC Outdoors

On March 28, 2024, as part of our Transportation Equity Doc & Talk screening of Emily Ford’s A Voice for the Wild, Zeitgeist hosted a panel talk with organizers from BIPOC Outdoors Twin Ports and Twin Cities: Sam Armacost, Cory Maria Dack, and Faviola “Favi” Ramirez. We’re excited to share excerpts from the conversation.


FAVI: I’m first-generation American. Both of my parents immigrated into the US and the thought of sleeping outside was like, “Why?” I visited my grandma and my great-grandma in 2019. They have a small, comfy room and the rest of the land is trees. And they have an outhouse for the bathroom and the laundry and the dishes. And it’s camping! My first time camping was the first BIPOC winter trip of 2022, and it was like 30 degrees, so it wasn’t that cold. There was still some snow. And I just remember thinking, “Oh, this is camping? This is how my grandma lives!” It felt so natural and it came so secondhand to engage with the outdoors in that way.

SAM: I had never been in the woods with a group of all people of color before. I had usually been the only person of color in the groups that I had been in the wilderness with. So it was this thing that I didn’t even know that I needed or that I could have. What Emily Ford shared in that last reflection of the simplicity and clarity of mind – that is what I got a taste of when I was 15 and then profoundly again when I was 22 and then again when I was 27. And it has just been this fueling reminder of why communities of color, especially, need a space to feel that kind of peace. [So we’ve] fostered this BIPOC Outdoors community – for people who are curious about getting outside, people who have been getting outside – and just really creating an environment that’s BIPOC-centered, BIPOC-led. I say ‘for BIPOC by BIPOC’ – just the power of seeing people who look like you in the leadership roles, making the decisions, designing the menus – it really matters; it really makes a difference in making you feel represented or making you feel like your full identity and culture can actually shine.

CORY: When I first started working and playing outside in my 20’s, I didn’t have the paradigm or vocabulary back then to realize that a lot of what I was experiencing were microaggressions: if you weren’t “earthy” enough, if you didn’t own the right clothes or gear, if you were too loud…like how many times do people of color get called “too loud”? So I really struggled at first. But I also really felt like I was worthy of having those outdoor experiences. […] I really deeply felt that there was a great peace to be had and great adventure to be had and great healing to be had and I just felt like I was worthy of that even though I hadn’t grown up with the skills to do something like this. So in those ways I feel like I’ve fought for my place to be in this career from day one. As I fought for my place I also became rooted in the idea that we must also take people with us. I wasn’t just fighting for myself. I wanted other BIPOC to have a better experience entering this field than I had had. I firmly believe that when you level up, when your vibrations level up, you take people with you. It’s a beautiful honor! So that’s how I’ve gone through this space ever since.

FAVI: My biggest thing with BIPOC Outdoors is not to make it exclusive. If anything it’s to include people who are often excluded to have a safe place where they can let their guards down and not think about being microaggressed or even come in with that trauma. […] I don’t have to think about that when I’m with people of color. And so creating those spaces where people can feel comfortable enough to make mistakes or learn for themselves and not feel like they have to be on guard. Then fortify – like create a really strong relationship slowly through these adventures with earth, with the trees, with the birds – and have a relationship that has been planted and then made stronger with community and then go out into the world and not be questioned…or be questioned and be like, ‘Actually I’m good. I already have my relationship and I’ve already cultivated it. And I can’t be bothered by a microaggression.’

SAM: Feeling that reconnection with your own culture, with your own ancestry, for me, anyway, gives me a sense of groundedness in who I am. And I feel like I can explore that. And when I don’t feel like I need to fit into the mainstream outdoorsy look or culture and have all the gear and all the stuff, [then] it’s more just about this connectedness to…everything! Objectively, being in nature is good for you; it’s good for your health! We know this. It reduces your stress – and I’ve been talking about this a lot but there’s this Japanese philosophy called “Forest Bathing” which maybe some of you have heard of. It’s called “Shinrin Yoku.” And it’s really what it sounds like: it’s just being immersed in a natural space. And whether it’s just hearing the sound of water or hearing the sound of birds or sitting on grass and feeling grass on your hands and toes – like having that sensory connection to nature – there have been studies showing it reduces your stress levels and gives you a sense of calm. And for people of color, we experience more stressors on a daily basis just because we’re constantly fielding all the things that are projected and assumed about us purely on the way that we look. Sometimes it’s just paranoia, but the hardest part is not knowing if it’s based on something true or maybe you imagined it but it felt like it was real…and then people reading you as stand-offish or really quiet and not welcoming when you’re just trying to protect yourself. These are all things that we’re trying to manage.

CORY: Within the BIPOC Outdoors weekend that Favi planned and that Sam and I helped co-guide with Favi, within that group of all BIPOC people, we also had what our friend Janessa called a “Big-Body Hike” that she and I co-led — and I had never heard about this and I was like, “Where has this been my whole life?” But basically it’s for fat-bodied people and fat-identifying people only. And I tell you, in the course of my career, I’ve dealt with misogyny, I’ve dealt with racism, but the thing that has always hurt me the most is the fat-phobia. And fat-phobia, if you haven’t researched this yet, is deeply rooted in racism and ableism – and if that’s new to you there’s tons of great information out there (google is free). Fat-phobia is not just being mean; it’s actually related to colonization. And as a fat-bodied person, I feel terrible if I’m on a hike and people can’t wait for me. That feels traumatic.

FAVI: There’s something so special about being led by Black, Indigenous, People of Color – it’s not just about representation; there’s a mindset to that. And giving people the ability to discover how to do something outside by themselves is also a decolonized mindset, or re-Indigenizing. And you do not have to be Indigenous to re-Indigenize: it’s about putting theory into practice. And I like to stay away from correcting people on how to do something. That’s been really detrimental to my engagement with the outdoors is when someone corrects me and I’m trying to learn for myself: engaging with my body, engaging with other living beings, and finding out for myself what that relationship looks like.

CORY: One of the programs that I work for is called Canoemobile and it’s a really great program where we specifically go into communities that are “underserved” or “underrepresented” and so a lot of people that we try to reach out to are BIPOC kids, children of color. And we’ll have maybe 200 kids a day who come canoeing for the first time ever. In general there is a lot of talk about more extreme outdoor adventures, like what Emily Ford does or when I canoed the whole Mississippi River or how Favi just went on a great polar training – those are all really extreme outdoor adventures. But you can have a profound experience in Nature even if it’s just a short, introductory canoe ride. On Canoemobile we always talk with the kids about taking that feeling of peace you feel in your belly with you after we canoe together. Because when we go on our 15min canoe rides I always have the kids do what we call the “Minute of Silence”: I have everybody close their eyes and breathe in and out and use their other senses to listen to Nature, to feel it. After a minute of floating silently on the water, I’ll say “raise your hand if you felt the wind in your hair” and “raise your hand if you felt the sun on your face” and “raise your hand if you heard a bird.” And we talk about how even if you don’t go into the Arctic Tundra, you can still have really powerful moments with Nature in a backyard, in a city; you kind of “get in where you fit in.” So just having the kids feeling good in their bodies outside is a way to that connection with Nature. Especially because we all know that classism and racism are bedfellows in this society, and so, with that comes a lot of people of color who have been displaced or have a harder time accessing Nature because we’re in more urban areas for lots of different reasons related to white supremacy and capitalism. So I think it’s so important that people feel good connecting to Nature wherever it is that you can get to Nature.

SAM: For some groups of people that relationship [to nature] was severed very intentionally or was a product of forced removal from their ancestral homelands. So that’s a big part of what we’re holding space for and letting that be at the forefront if it needs to be at the forefront. Especially within the BIPOC community there has been so much violence and trauma that’s associated with the wilderness, whether it’s from exclusionary policies that keep specific groups out of national parks — for example, a law that didn’t change until the 60s, until the Civil Rights Act, prevented Black folks from going into national parks. That’s like my parents’ generation. So thinking about how recent these laws have been in place, the mentality of that being the norm doesn’t just switch with a law being overturned; it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort in totally changing that narrative and that perspective. And so events like this and affinity spaces, specifically, where we can really hold space for BIPOC people by BIPOC people is really part of reassuring folks that we can be out here safely and we can take care of each other and we’re gathering the resources to be able to offer these experiences. That’s what I really love about being in community with BIPOC folks. I think there’s really this deep connection with our ancestry and really all of the way our ancestors have been connected with land and water and how they have stewarded those relationships for time immemorial.


  • Sam Armacost (she/her) has worked as a canoe guide and program coordinator/facilitator in the environmental/outdoor recreation industry for over a decade. After canoeing the length of the Mississippi River with her father in 2021, she decided to move to its headwaters state (Minnesota) and has followed the currents that paddling, environmental stewardship, and racial justice have continued to lead her. Follow BIPOC Outdoors Twin Ports @bipocoutdoorstwinports.
  • Cory Maria Dack (she/her/ella) is an Indigenous Latina who was born in Ecuador and raised in Northern Minnesota. Cory canoed the entire Mississippi River source to sea during the winter months of 2022-2023. Her journey highlighted the need to bridge equity gaps in the outdoors for women broadly, and women of color specifically, as well as for immigrants, fat bodied people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, economically disadvantaged people, and other demographics that are underrepresented on the water and in the outdoors. Follow Cory @corymaria13.
  • Faviola (“Favi”) Ramirez devotes physical and spiritual movement to full freedom for the past, present, and future generations of Black, Indigenous, People of color. With the Nichiren Buddhist & Zapatista principles deep in heart, Favi organizes for BIPOC to have the opportunity to explore and nourish their relationships with mother earth. Follow BIPOC Outdoors Twin Cities @bipocoutdoorstc.