African American poet, Maya Angelou, said:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”.
We know better and it’s time that we do better.
Since 1934, Arowhon’s mission has been to grow children. Yet, throughout our history, like most Canadian outdoor programs, we have not made it a priority to include Black, Indigenous or other racialized groups in the camping experience. This exclusion makes us part of the problem of racism.
We acknowledge that our camp is almost 95% white in both its camper and staff populations. We are committed to ensuring that anyone who enters Camp Arowhon feels welcomed and accepted. It isn’t enough to say that everyone belongs. We need to hear from historically excluded voices – to help guide our decisions to create a more welcoming and inclusive Arowhon.
Like many people the world over, we stand in solidarity with the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner and other Black Americans whose lives were tragically cut short by systemic racism. We are also painfully aware that closer to home, Black, Indigenous and other racialized Canadians suffer from racism and violence. This includes Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Andrew Loku, Sammy Yatim, D’Andre Campbell and Josephine Pelletier – all of whom died in encounters with police.
At Arowhon we cannot be indifferent to the suffering racism causes. We have an obligation to advance racial equity.
The barriers to the participation of Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups in summer camps are economic, cultural and rooted in our history.
For the past month, we’ve been conducting an internal audit of our camp’s behaviours and are educating ourselves about how to do better.
What We Know So Far
- Talk is cheap. We realize talk is not enough. Action is required of us now.
- It is not up to Black, Indigenous or other racialized people to educate us. It’s our job to read and listen, to take responsibility for our education in this area.
- Our efforts at inclusion of Black and Indigenous people over the last 10 years have failed. By bringing small numbers of them to camp as scholarship campers and on staff, we underestimated the need to create a safe environment. By failing to first lay groundwork in our community via anti-racism education, we did not build a culture of allyship among white campers and staff, we reinforced the “otherness” of people of colour and silenced their voices.
- It is not enough to bring the occasional Indigenous educator to camp for an evening of awareness-raising. Community change and acting against systemic racism require our deeper understanding of the mistreatment of first peoples.
- In doing this work, we can learn from our experience welcoming and including Syrian refugee campers. This teaches us to build community relationships, lay groundwork for empathy in our community, and listen more carefully to people of colour and Indigenous people. We need to do this work thoughtfully and systematically.
- We do not have a clear plan yet. Having no camp this summer is an opportunity for us to read, listen, learn and plan. We commit to all these things.
What We Know To Do So Far
- Acknowledge the harm that has been caused by the limited access of Black, Indigenous and people of colour to rewarding camp experiences
- Do our homework by seeking advice from anti-racism practitioners and using the multitude of good resources available
- Recruit and support Black, Indigenous and other racialized campers
- Voice is crucial. Camp needs to set up and support regular forums for Black and Indigenous members of the community to speak safely to each other and to have their concerns both listened to and acted on by camp management. This is profoundly different from reactive listening in the moment when someone has a complaint.
- It is an irony that camp is within an hour’s drive of Algonquin territory – and we have no meaningful relationships with the Algonquins. Taking down totem poles is not enough. We need to invest in meaningful relationships with our Algonquin neighbours.
- We need to review our existing employee recruiting strategies for opportunities to strengthen our staffing practices through Black and Indigenous staff recruiting – while ensuring that it’s never just one or two hires.
- We will support initiatives that lead to increased participation by Indigenous and Black youth in outdoor education.
- We will be courageous in anticipating uncomfortable conversations about our views, camping practices and experiences of privilege.
- We will broaden our reach so that it is more diverse, inclusive and intentionally anti-racist.