Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
This paper is derived from participant observation research on the traditional coastal territories of the Huu-ay-aht and Ditidaht First Nation, an area traversed by one of Canada's most famous hiking trails, the West Coast Trail. It is maintained and administered as a wilderness unit of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and hiked by thousands of mostly domestic tourists each year. Outdoor recreation in what is conceived of as a 'national backyard' is often represented in state and popular discourses as integral to the Canadian experience. Meta-narratives of pristine wilderness play an important role in the formation of settler Canadian attachments to a national landscape and are inescapably rooted in colonialism. What is particularly interesting in the case of Canadian settler-colonialism is the imperative to actively participate in the environment rather than simply gazing at scenery. The emphasis on ‘being’ in this environment by physically acting upon it brings a measure of unpredictability into visitor experience that potentially challenges or disrupts nationalist myths. I ask what can we understand about how settler-colonialism functions from analyzing the ways in which domestic tourists ritually engage with the terrain and territory which they also claim, as settler-Canadian, as “theirs”? How does a practice like walking over territory, performed at the level of the individual body and yet replicated by thousands, both reproduce and challenge colonialist representations of space? How do embodied subjectivities such as race, gender, and ability interact with an unpredictable terrain to produce complex experiences of a colonized landscape?