Judith Kasiama holds walking sticks, in an orange jacket and a red backpack, near a mountain.(Photo: Pavel Boiko)

How Judith Kasiama Is Making The Outdoors More Inclusive

Colour the Trails is carving out space for racialized Canadians in outdoor sports—one hike (or bike ride or ski trip) at a time.
By Rhiannon Russell

WHEN JUDITH KASIAMA started joining group hikes in the Vancouver area in the summer of 2016, she noticed a few things right away: Other hikers had top-of-the line clothing and gear, they hiked faster than she did and the groups weren’t very diverse. The outings were usually led by white people, and she was often the only Black woman present. “I just didn’t find it as inclusive as it could be,” she says.

Then Kasiama noticed something else. When she’d go into stores that sold outdoor gear, the ads and posters on the walls almost universally featured white people. The then-27-year-old started thinking about diversity in the outdoors and the lack of representation in marketing.

“In reality, there are a lot of people who look like me participating in the outdoors,” she says. She dove into online research about diversity and inclusion in nature-related activities and found that while there were a few groups in the U.S. specifically for racialized people—like Afro Outdoors and the National Brotherhood of Skiers—they were lacking in Canada.

That’s why, in 2017, Kasiama founded Colour the Trails, an organization that aims to make outdoor sports more inclusive of and accessible for Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour (BIPOC), and increase diversity in the industry as a whole. Since then, the group has grown to include chapters in Edmonton, Montreal and southern Ontario. Each one hosts events that allow participants to try a range of sports—from skiing, mountain biking, sailing and rock climbing to kayaking, fishing, snowboarding and mountaineering. Last year, nearly 1,000 people attended more than 75 events.

“We centre BIPOC so folks know it’s a safe space,” Kasiama says. “A lot of our events are zero-barrier—you don’t have to have experience. You can come and we’ll teach you how to ski.”


“JUST GO OUTSIDE. It’s not hard—no one’s stopping you.” Kasiama has heard this before in response to her efforts. If you’re not a person of colour and you come from a middle- or upper-class background, outdoor recreation may seem inherently low-barrier. Consider the social, economic and historical context, though, and that perspective shifts.

Some outdoor activities—like skiing, mountain biking or even camping—require expensive gear or lessons. For immigrants, who experience higher rates of poverty compared to non-immigrants, participation in such sports can be out of reach. Children of first-generation Canadians, meanwhile, might not be exposed to outdoor recreation for cultural or familial reasons—their parents didn’t camp or climb, so why would they?

Then there’s the history of government policies designed to restrict the movement of racialized groups of people. First Nations people were forced off their lands and onto reserves, with national parks such as Banff, in Alberta, and Riding Mountain, in Manitoba, created on the newly vacant lands. In some Canadian municipalities in the 1920s and ’30s, Black people were banned from public recreational facilities, including swimming pools and parks. Segregated urban neighbourhoods were also a form of racist control.

“If you have a Black population in downtown Toronto, it’s easier to keep eyes on them,” Kasiama says of the policies. “If you have a Black population in rural areas, you don’t know what they’re doing and it’s hard to monitor them.”

A group of people, led by Judith Kasiama, hike through a rocky and green landscape.In 2023, nearly 1,000 people attended more than 75 Colour the Trails events.(Photo: Pavel Boiko)

A 2021 report by Nature Canada outlined how these issues have created the perception that the outdoors is a place for white people. The non-profit partnered with community organizations in the Greater Toronto Area to speak to youth from several countries, including Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Nigeria. Many participants reported a fear of encountering white people in nature and experiencing racism or violence.

That fear is grounded in reality: In 2021, a survey by Canadian charity Park People showed that Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour were more than twice as likely to report discrimination as a barrier to using parks compared to white people. “The fear of white people reflects the bigger issue of systemic racism in outdoor spaces,” the Nature Canada report states. “That is, when nature and the great outdoors are seen as white spaces, people of colour who venture there are seen as out of place or as intruders. The lack of people of colour in nature organizations, social media feeds and publications reinforces the whiteness of the space.”


AS A CHILD growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kasiama was outside often—climbing trees, swimming in the river and helping out on her family’s farm. At age seven, she fled the country with her mother and father during the First Congo War. They moved to South Africa, then Australia and then, in 2001, to the U.S. When their visa expired, they had two options: go back to the Democratic Republic of Congo or head to Canada, where they had extended family, as refugees.

In 2010, Kasiama and her family settled in Hamilton, Ont. Two years later, she pursued international studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. She’d watched the Vancouver Olympics on TV with her family prior to their move to Canada, and the mountains and the ocean (and the mild winters) appealed to her.

After graduation, Kasiama moved to Vancouver and purchased an inexpensive car. She started spending more time hiking in the mountains—and she noticed the lack of diversity in marketing around the outdoors. Her first step after founding Colour the Trails was to organize group hikes for other people of colour.

In 2018, Kasiama called out several outdoor retailers on her Instagram, including Mountain Equipment Company, for not showing diversity in their advertisements. “There seems to be a narrative that BIPOC don’t enjoy the outdoors compared to their white friends,” she wrote. “This is not rooted in actual reality but a myth perpetuated by marketing that caters to a predominantly white audience.”

In response, the brand brought her on as an ambassador. (She has since left the role, noting that it felt tokenistic.) Kasiama helped the company produce more inclusive marketing, participating in photo and video shoots to promote diversity. She also began reaching out to other companies about collaborations, trying to find partners who’d support adventures for racialized people by subsidizing gear rentals or instruction.

At that time, she says, there was little interest. Then, in May 2020, Black Lives Matter protests erupted across Canada and the United States after George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minnesota. Kasiama started getting emails back from companies.

“I understand when something is a trend,” she says. She tried to choose partners that were interested in long-term commitment and avoid those that wanted instant gratification from jumping on the diversity bandwagon.

It was a turning point: Since then, Colour the Trails has worked with brands and organizations—including Arc’teryx, BC Parks and Adidas—to offer affordable programming. The group has hosted nighttime sea kayaking in North Vancouver, camping trips in Alberta’s Elk Island National Park, climbing nights in downtown Toronto and an annual snow-sports event in Revelstoke, B.C., called Colour the Slopes. Thanks to partnerships, the events are subsidized, so participants pay just 25 to 30 percent of the market price.

Priya Moraes joined Colour the Trails as its Ontario chapter lead in January 2022. She was in an entrepreneurship accelerator program at Sheridan College trying to create a company that promotes diversity in the outdoors when she heard about Colour the Trails, and she joined the team a year later.

Moraes remembers the first event she organized: snowshoeing at Albion Hills Conservation Park in Caledon, Ont. One participant had moved to Canada from a tropical country 12 years before, and it was her first time being outside for fun in the winter. To her surprise, she enjoyed it. “Seeing that impact right away was a really cool moment,” says Moraes, who is also the group’s partnership strategist. “At your first event, you’re already broadening people’s horizons about what’s fun or what’s possible in the winter here.”

Colour the Trails also tries to change the face of the industry by offering certification and training so that more people of colour can become sports guides and instructors. Kasiama and her team of five consult with companies on diversity and inclusion and help hire models, writers, videographers and photographers for shoots and campaigns.

In 2020, Kasiama started a film festival whose movies feature Black adventurers in the outdoors. The event, now called Like Me – Outdoor Edition, includes other communities that have been historically excluded, such as disabled, Indigenous and queer people. And she’s on the board of the Trans Canada Trail; as far as she’s aware, she’s the first Black woman board member.

“My vision is to eventually work myself out of business,” says Kasiama. “I want to come to a point where diversity in the outdoors is not a thing that we talk about or think about—that it becomes normalized versus something that is tokenized.” That’ll happen once there are enough racialized people participating in outdoor sports and working in the industry—once there isn’t a noticeable disparity in who’s enjoying nature.

“There’s so much hunger for the outdoors to be more inclusive,” Kasiama says. “The Black Lives Matter movement had a lot of people thinking that we’re going to change [it] within a year. But change takes time, and we’re here for the long run.”