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Stealing Wisdom: Cultural Appropriation and Misrepresentation within Adventure Therapy and Outdoor Education

Kylie P Skidmore
Source: Research Paper: University of New Hampshire
Article Date:  June 25, 2017

by Kylie Skidmore 
University of New Hampshire Graduate Student
Social Work and Outdoor Education Dual Degree

           Scattered throughout the realm of outdoor education, camping programs and adventure therapy are myriad fragments ‘borrowed’ from indigenous cultures. In more recent years there has been a deliberate move away from this practice, however indigenous ‘borrowings’ remain deeply embedded within outdoor programming, particularly in North America. Indigenous culture is woven throughout every facet; logos and artwork, stories around the camp fire, pieces of lore, wisdom and knowledge. It crops up in traditions such as the medicine wheel, sweat lodges, vision quests, the ‘talking stick’, camp structure and organisation, and circular councils.

            To some extent, the outdoor industry cheerfully embraces an ethos of ‘stealing’ ideas. Younger camp counsellors and adventure programmers are encouraged to borrow, adapt, and appropriate ideas, activities and games; things that work. There is a constant cycle of adaptation, synthesis, and improvisation. Often practitioners are unaware of the origins of the traditions or wisdom they have ‘borrowed’.

            The question for the outdoor community is whether there is anything wrong with this? What are the ethics, dangers, limitations, and benefits of borrowing ideas from other cultures? This paper enters the conversation on the concept of cultural appropriation, and its place within the outdoor field, particularly in the US and Australian contexts.

 Historical Framework

            Indigenous cultures and peoples have long occupied a mythic space in the Western imagination. During the period of colonisation indigenous peoples were constructed in two main forms, either innocent and pure, but requiring salvation, education and protection; or as barbaric, untamable beasts, requiring extermination or forcible subjugation (Frederickson, 2015). This portrait of noble savage or subhuman beast formed a dichotomous reduction which was often held simultaneously. Similarly, indigenous cultures were framed as primitive, barbaric, and mysteriously ‘other’ (Bethencourt, 2014; Frederickson, 2015).

            The US, in particular, seems to have a curious and somewhat unique relationship with the North American indigenous nations. Possibly more than any other colonised nation, ‘Native America’ has played an extremely significant role in the imagination and creation of national identity. The idea of the ‘Indian’; almost entirely a creation of white American imagination, provided a trope internalised in the American psyche to both distance itself from Britain and define itself as a new nation (Green, 1987; Mezey, 2007; Tsosie, 2002). Members of the ‘Sons of Liberty’ hurled tea into Boston harbour dressed as ‘Mohawk’ warriors, symbolising both rebellion and freedom. Ritualistic societies such as the ‘Improved Order of the Red Men’ (Deloria, 1998; Green, 1987; Mezey, 2007) enacted progressive ‘initiations’ in a process of “inindianation”, using fantastical quasi-Indian scripts (Grimes, 2000, p. 118). Through these and similar acts, white America assumed elements of this notion of ‘Indian’; forging an identity which was characteristically ‘New World’.  This was imbued with qualities of the iconic and invented Indian Brave: strong, independent, noble and free (Delorian, 1998; Mezey, 2007).

            This preoccupation with Native American stories, symbols and icons, and with ‘playing Indian’ flavoured the early days of the outdoor camping movement and eventually adventure therapy. At the turn of the twentieth century, Ernest Seton wove his notion of Native American practices into outdoor camping programmes for boys (Mezey, 2007). He deliberately modelled activities on “the ideal Indian, whether he ever existed or not”, as he represented the “highest type of the primitive life” (Seton, 1906, p. 3). There was something in the cherished idea of the noble young brave, and in the structured and unstructured use of outdoor spaces, that Seton and many of his compatriots saw as an antidote to the corrupting influences of society on a young man’s character and development. This had a considerable impact on the boy scouting movement, associated ‘woodcraft’ programmes and therapeutic camping programs; a legacy which continues to this day.

            In keeping with this notion of the development of a young man’s character, some programmes introduced rituals crafted around the transition into adulthood. Many of these borrowed or attributed content to indigenous customs. During the early twentieth century, anthropologist Arnold van Gennep famously coined the phrase ‘rites of passage’ to describe an array of rituals and processes heralding transition from one stage of life to another (Grimes, 2000; Norris, 2011). He generalised rites and rituals from various cultures into a three step process of separation, transition, and incorporation. He likened the process of leaving one stage or identity to take on a new one to passing through the neutral zone between countries, or through a portal between ‘worlds’. The initiate leaves the known territory, moves through a period of transition, to be incorporated into the new territory.  He saw this symbolic and spatial transition period or threshold crossing as a feature of all ceremonies marking a change in social status. He was particularly interested in the rites involved in this transitional phase, which he called liminal or threshold rites (van Gennep, 1960).

            Victor Turner (1969) viewed this transition as happening through a “limbo of statuslessness” (p. 97). He described the sense of comradeship and removal of hierarchy which emerged during a period of liminality as communitas.  These ideas of liminality and communitas have resonated in the outdoor community (Bell, 2003; Sharpe, 2005). Parallels are evident in outdoor programming. Wilderness expeditions, and to a lesser extent camps and day programming often involve the formation of a new community in an ‘in between’ space, where status structures are removed or limited.  Outdoor programmers seek novel, ‘comfort-zone-stretching’ experiences   (Nadler & Luckner, 1997) which echo the liminal rites and give rise to this “modality of social relationship” (Turner, 1969, p. 96). The simplicity, equality, sense of the sacred and “disregard for personal appearance” (p. 106) which occur in that space all reflect Turner’s (1969) notion of communitas.

            While a fascination with initiation and ‘rites of passage’ seems to be pervasive amongst Western nations, Grimes (2000) has suggested there may be, perhaps, something peculiar to the North American  psyche which longs for ritual, symbol and ceremony. Much of the early migration to America occurred in a climate of “aversion to ritual, a distaste cultivated by periodic waves of iconoclasm (“image breaking”), the Protestant reformations, Puritan anti-ritualism, and American utilitarian pragmatism”(p. 112). He suggests this lack of ritual has fuelled a hunger, particularly amongst the disaffiliated, for a deeper ritual experience. Another possibly is the confusion created by the plurality of Western culture and the lack of a singular, definitive, universal rite in a period of immigration to the United States.  

            During the 1970s, the New Age movement  brought a new dimension of commercial exploitation to indigenous cultures. The movement packaged elements of spirituality, knowledge, ritual and ceremony from an eclectic array of sources for popular consumption (Aldred, 2000). This tailored to a yearning for something simpler, more ‘pure’ and ‘authentic’. Adherents sought a ‘truth’ in the spirituality or wisdom of indigenous cultures, and saw this as the obverse of the decay and malaise perceived in Western culture (Aldred, 2000; Welch, 2002). This was shared by many in the outdoor and therapeutic camping field. Practitioners of this era began offering vision quests and utilising sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies, and scripts such as the controversial story of Jumping Mouse were used to ‘guide’ participants through the rites of passage process (School of Lost Borders, n.d.).

            Within contemporary programmes there is evidence of this pluralistic approach. A quick internet search garners dozens of examples, from retreats, camps, adventure therapy programmes , and vision quest programmes, each incorporating borrowings from indigenous sources.  Indigenous imagery and icons adorn websites and promotional materials. ‘Tribal’ and ‘spirit’ names are bestowed, feathers and stones gifted and Native American themed camps run entirely by non-Native American staff still exist. Skills based on concepts of indigenous practices are taught and described as primitive, and the wisdom of the elders is invoked in teaching and camp lore.

 Cultural Appropriation

            Culture is a complex, somewhat nebulous concept. Singer, Dressler and George (2016) have described culture as “an internalized and shared schema or framework that is used by group (or subgroup) members as a refracted lens to “see” reality, and in which both the individual and the collective experience the world” (p. 242). They suggest it is essential to the survival and well being of humans, providing the tools to interpret the world and create norms and the social structures which codify and support those norms. Culture is dynamic, and transmitted through the gamut of human expression, belief systems, emotions, knowledge systems, social institutions, art, ritual, stories, lore and other artifacts. It is, as Tsosie (2002) highlights, “fundamentally tied to systems of power” (p. 311).

            Cultural appropriation has been defined as “the taking – from a culture that is not one’s own – of intellectual property, cultural expression or artefacts, history and ways of knowledge” (The Canadian Writers Union, cited in Ziff & Rao, 1997, p. 1). This raises a number of questions. Where are the cultural boundaries? Who decides what and who is included or excluded? Who owns culture? Does everyone within a culture own it equally, and therefore have the same right to ‘share’, ‘sell’, or protect it?

            Cultural appropriation takes on different forms, and can be viewed or described in different ways. It is important to note that appropriation or any exchange of ideas, customs and praxis occurs within the context of a relationship. The nature of that relationship, and both the degree to which the exchange is voluntary or enforced and the dynamic of power within it, adds a political, ethical and moral dimension. Cultural appropriation is, as Rogers (2006) notes, inextricably linked with cultural politics.

            A simplistic model of cultural appropriation is sometimes described as cultural exchange: two cultures of equal power, reciprocally and voluntarily sharing equivalent artefacts or elements of culture (Rogers, 2006). This model possibly only exists in ideal form, as it presupposes a symmetrical power relationship and equal volition and agency on both sides. It ignores the historical and socio-political context of almost every cultural transaction, and the complexities of power and the different forms it takes. It is, however, useful as a benchmark or to highlight the absence of equity in many forms of cultural transmission.

            More commonly, cultural transmission could be defined as occurring through domination, exploitation, assimilation and resistance. In nations such as the US and Australia, the First Nation cultures were forced to assimilate the colonising culture through a variety of means. Deliberate government policies forcibly removed people from their land, forbade the use of language, cultural and religious practices, and imposed Western legal, economic, education and social systems (Gone, 2016; Mezey, 2007). Exploitation occurs when the colonising culture uses elements of the colonised culture without permission or compensation. In instances where subjugated cultures offer resistance, the imposed culture might be reinterpreted using their own cultural practices (Mezey, 2007; Rogers, 2006).

            Possibly all cultural interaction results in a form of what has variously been described as hybridisation, transculturation, or fusion (Mezey, 2007; Rogers, 2006). Culture is a nebulous, permeable concept, and a fluid congress occurs when cultures ‘meet’. Cultural appropriation has been occurring for millennia, and it is often difficult to identify a pure origin for a cultural practice or artefact. Transmission is not as simple as one culture taking a discrete element and recycling it as is. Even when cultural elements are forced upon a subordinate culture, they are often reinterpreted and redefined. The quest to define ‘authentic’ or pure origins of cultural units assumes a lack of ‘contamination’ and agency.

            Rogers (2006) provides an example of the constant flux and reworking of culture any exchange creates. The Diné (or Navajo) of southwestern US are well known for their beautiful woven rugs. In 1864 the Diné were forced from their land by the US Army, in what is known as the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo. In their new setting, lacking access to the wool for weaving, or other forms of livelihood, the Diné women unpicked the Army issue blankets, and re-wove the fibres. During the 1880s the railroad came, bringing not only ‘Germantown’ yarn, with brighter and far more varied hues than had previously been available, but also access to wider markets. For forty years these vivid ‘eyedazzler’ rugs were produced, before the market demanded a return to more ‘authentic’ colours (Caldwell, 2013; Rogers, 2006). Then, in the 1990s, there was a resurgence of the popularity of the eyedazzler. It spoke of resistance, inventiveness, survival, and adaptability.

            The debate over authenticity binds culture to a static moment, fixed in time. The wool used in the ‘authentic’ rugs prior to the Long Walk was introduced to the Diné by Spanish colonisers, and the sheep they brought. It is highly likely that the Diné learnt the current process of weaving with an upright loom from people of the Pueblo Nations (Caldwell, 2013).

            This raises the question of agency and who decides what is authentic. Another example of the difficulties which arise with this question is the didjeridu. The didjeridu is an aerophone or drone pipe made from a termite hollowed eucalyptus trunk (Ryan, 2015). Globally, and particularly in contemporary Australia, it is seen as an icon symbolising Indigenous Australia. It is likely the name ‘didjeridu’ was ascribed by colonisers, possibly as a somewhat derogatory onomatopoeic rendition of the sound produced (Corn, 2003). It has various names in the top end of Australia from where it originates, the most commonly known being Yidaki, in the Yolngu language. Prior to colonisation the didjeridu was unknown in the southern two-thirds of the continent (Corn, 2003; Magowan 2005).

            Interventions targeting Indigenous youth in southern states such as New South Wales, sometimes involve teaching participants to source, finish and use a didjeridu (R. Naden, personal communication, May 15, 2015). Research exists suggesting cultural continuity and a knowledge and mastery of traditional practices increases resilience in indigenous youth (Chandler & Lalonde, 2008; Hallett, Chandler & Lalonde, 2007; Haswell, Blignault,  & Pulver, 2013; Wexler, 2009). Is it appropriate to teach a Wiradjuri youth a Yolngu tradition? Is it appropriate for a non-Indigenous practitioner to teach an Indigenous youth who has lost his or her connection to culture (through white policy and practices) Indigenous traditions and knowledge? Is it appropriate to use the didjeridu as an indiscriminate therapeutic tool regardless of the background of participants or practitioners? Is it acceptable that the didjeridu is synonymous with Indigenous Australia as a singular entity, when it is traditional in areas culturally separate from those in the south ?

            This raises not only the question of appropriation, but also representation. Much of the debate around sporting mascots and icons in the US has centred around cultural appropriation, however, as Mezey (2007) points out, many of these are entirely white in construction, and so it is not so much appropriation but representation that is an issue here. Within the outdoor programming and camping realm many of the Indigenous influences constitute a combination of appropriation and representation. The concept of representation brings into question the accuracy of cultural representation, and also rights of representation; who has the right to represent culture?

 Is cultural appropriation and misrepresentation in the outdoor field an issue?

            Is this an issue? Does it matter that the outdoor field is made up of an amalgamation of different sources and cultures. Sociologist Brian Fay argues that human history is a bazaar, a “crossroads in which…skills and resources are traded, stolen, improved upon [and] passed along to others”(Fay cited in Welch, 2002, p. 22). If the merging and ‘contamination’ of cultures is inevitable, is there any reason to attempt to define or confine culture as an entity ?


            On a very basic level, there is an argument to be made that cultural practices can be defined and attributed to specific groups of people, and if so cultural appropriation constitutes theft. Various laws and conventions protect art, intellectual property, and archaeological discoveries amongst other things. Many questions however, surrounding cultural ‘ownership’ remain understandably grey (Young & Brunk, 2009). Despite Fay’s assertion that cultural exchange is an inevitable part of the rub of cultures, it is difficult to argue that it is ethically defensible for one culture to plunder another when there is such a degree of inequality in the ‘exchange’. Historically, and even contemporarily, subordinated cultures have had very limited choice in both assimilation and arrogation of culture. Dominant settler cultures have been imposed either forcibly, through sanctions, or limited or denied access to the means for cultural maintenance, and elements of the subordinate culture plundered piecemeal (Rogers, 2006; Tsosie, 2003). It could be argued there is something highly offensive about violently subjugating a culture, and then glibly accessorising from its wealth of artefact and tradition. The offence is possibly increased when a profit is made from the ‘theft’, as in the sweat-lodge or traditional arts industry (Brunk & Young, 2009).


            The denial of self-definition is a characteristic of the ongoing process of cultural colonisation . The West, or settler cultures continue to determine how indigenous cultures are portrayed, defined and transmitted (Alfred & Corntassel, 2005; Coombe, 1993; Tsosie, 2002). This is typified by the contrary tendencies to both demand authenticity of, and to conflate different and possibly divergent indigenous cultures into a singular, simplistic, bounded entity. The resulting trope is representative of Western imagination rather than reality (Deloria, 1998; Mezey, 2007). Indigenous peoples are often highly romanticised, seen as pure and noble, living in harmony with the physical world and keepers of sacred knowledge. They have been reduced to an idealised, imagined essence, from a moment frozen in history which never really occurred. Any deviation from this construction is seen as ‘inauthentic’, and thus individual cultures are allowed no agency, and the dynamic of culture, which is constantly evolving and adapting in inventive and responsive ways, is denied (Waldron & Newton, 2012; Welch, 2002). This process strips individuals of their humanity, not allowing for the full range of human emotions, faculties, foibles. It diminishes the complexities and sophistication of the culture. The agency of living culture and the capacity to negotiate interactions with other cultural influences in a globalised reality is not recognised. Indigenous cultures are reshaped; confined to fit a Western sensibility or a perceived need in the Western psyche (Welch, 2002). In the words of Ole (1992),” I am not a museum specimen; my beliefs are not for sale. I am a human being. Treat me as such” (p. 22).

            The alternative image is the ‘failed native’. Media imagery of Indigenous Australia is saturated with portrayals of poverty, addiction and dereliction. This distortion, held by the dominant culture, is reflected back and absorbed by the colonised culture, with the potential to do significant damage (Taylor, 1997; Weaver, 2001). Constant misrepresentation constitutes a deprivation of culture (Young & Brunk, 2009). Charles Taylor (1997) has suggested that “non-recognition or mis-recognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted and reduced mode of being” (p. 25). Coherent cultural identity and cultural continuity have been shown to be an important determinant of the health and well-being of individuals and communities (Hallett, Chandler & Lalonde, 2007; Usborne & Taylor, 2010). Colonised indigenous cultures have some of the worst rates of suicide, incarceration, substance abuse and other negative well-being outcomes in the world (Brady, 1995). The indigenous cultures and communities at threat already have a long history of forced assimilation and broken traditional knowledge, making the sheer volume of false images transmitted through such a vast array of media far more potent (Tsosie, 2002). An Indigenous Australian youth has essentially two images to choose from: a naked skinny warrior, holding a spear, standing with one foot resting above the other knee, primitive and savage; or a hopeless delinquent, high on petrol fumes or drunk in a public space; either the noble savage, or the victim of colonisation.

            When a youth camp invokes the wisdom of the ‘chief’, Native Americans are once again being relegated to the position of ‘other’. Organisations across the US continue to teach ‘primitive skills’ and invoke wisdom which are clearly Native American in origin. Christopher Ronwanièn:te Jocks (1996) described using ceremonies and knowledge outside their proper context, as being “like stealing the ‘skin off our backs’” (p. 420). In response to the ‘borrowings’ the Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality was drawn up and passed during a gathering of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Nations in 1993 (Mesteth, Standing Elk & Swift Hawk, 1993). This document spoke out against commodified “phony ‘sweatlodges’ and ‘vision quest’ programs” (para. 6) and New Age desecration of sacred rites, stating “for too long we have suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian ‘wannabes,’ hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled ‘New Age shamans’ and their followers” (para. 3). It went on to decry other practices still utilised within the outdoor field, such as giving names, and using traditional names.

            One of the many individuals who Native American groups have protested against and ‘black-listed’ is Hyemeyohsts Storm (Churchill, 2003; Shaw, 1995). The frequently used Jumping Mouse story apparently originated with Storm, in his book The Seven Arrows. Storm originally published this as Cheyenne lore, however after strong opposition from Cheyenne elders, references to the Cheyenne were removed and some other aspects altered. The elders had described the publication as heretical and a farce, and were outraged at some of the more offensive content (Moore, 1996).

            However, despite the condemnation of Storm’s distortion of Native American spirituality by Native American spiritual leaders, activist groups and indigenous (and non-indigenous) scholars, (Aldred, 2000; Churchill, 2003; Moore, 1996; Shaw, 1995) his works continue to be consumed by the public. According to scholars such works constitute a distortion of culture and thus identity; a ‘dispossession’ by once again ‘killing off’ real Native Americans to make way for fictional native identities and culture; and a denial of agency by dismissing Native Americans’ concerns, wishes and counter stories (Coombes, 1993; Grimes, 2000, Stephenson, 2003).

            The fields of adventure therapy, camping and outdoor programming are predominantly geared towards human health, well-being, improvement, growth and healing. The Jumping Mouse award is a prestigious commendation for practitioners within the field of wilderness therapy. It recognises leadership, mentorship and commitment to the field. It seems counter-intuitive to provide a service targeting positive human development using elements a vulnerable population has claimed are both destructive and false.

 Use of land

            Additionally the outdoor industry relies on the use of land which has been taken from the original inhabitants. Rights and access to land is an ongoing issue which has had a devastating impact on indigenous people (King, Smith & Gracie, 2009). In Australia in particular, land is closely tied to identity (Dodson, 1977), and dispossession has irrevocably altered the cultural landscape. It could be argued that this provides the outdoor industry an additional obligation and incentive to negotiate indigenous concerns in a sensitive, compassionate and humble manner.

 Rites and rituals

            Van Gennep’s (1909/1960) conception of rites of passage has been embraced so thoroughly it has become a definitive, unquestioned cultural reality in Western thought. Eliade (1958/1965) believed initiation rites transcended history and culture and were fundamental to our humanity. Grimes (2000) however, argues that “the Western idea of initiation, whether in its scholarly or its popular guise, is a construction” (p. 110). Less than half the world’s societies traditionally practice initiations, and while the male oriented ‘quest of the young warrior’ ideal is very prevalent in outdoor education and adventure therapy programs, Grimes (2000) points out that the majority of rites were actually for girls entering into womanhood, often centering around first menstruation, and usually private rituals conducted at home. Initiation is more likely to occur in societies where social organisation is gendered. Traditional male initiations, when they occur, are more likely to happen in a group setting. These often begin early childhood, and may continue well into adulthood, some not reaching completion until a man has grandchildren (Grimes, 2000; Honwana, 2006).

            Extracting pieces of other cultures is not only potentially detrimental to the cultures of origin, it is also harmful in outdoor adventures. Many of the borrowed cultural elements have deep symbolic, spiritual, and social meaning. They fit within the overall context of the culture and society. Celebratory rituals that might be termed ‘rites of passage’ are often the culmination of years of organised learning from different people within the social structure. They are generally a marker for the individual or group being celebrated as they transition into new roles within the community, with defined expectations and responsibilities. The stories or ceremonies are often tied into the fabric of the society, giving structure and shape. To extract only the symbol is to miss the deeper truth it conveys. Without context the meaning is diminished at best, or lost entirely, or worse (Stephenson, 2003). Oles (cited in Horwood, 1994) argues that incongruence between rite or ceremony and the participants belief structure or worldview renders the rite ineffective and in the long run, meaningless.

            The greatest deficit in contemporary Western culture, is arguably not the absence of transitional rituals, but the lack of clearly defined community and social structure, and the sense of belonging, connection, responsibility and reciprocation which theoretically are part of the ‘incorporation phase’ (Bell, 2003). Post-modern Western culture is characteristically pluralistic, relativistic and individualistic. Meta-narratives have been largely rejected, there is a lack of social cohesion, and personal autonomy is prized in a way which does not allow mandatory initiation into a singular spiritual, social and communal culture (Bell, 2003; Grimes, 2000). Rather than strengthening community and building healthy cultural ties, the modern conception and usage of rites of passage and similar ideas often foster individualism and isolation, fundamentally undermining the point of a rite of passage, transition and incorporation into a new social role (Bell, Beames, & Carlson, 2010).  Instead the goals of adventure therapy and outdoor programming tend to focus on personal discovery and autonomy.  Campbell’s Hero’s journey; a generalised, imaginary, mythic abstraction which forms the basis for many outdoor education and adventure therapy practices is largely antithetical to the values and cultural practices of the majority of indigenous communities. The quest emphasises the inward journey, promoting self-awareness and essentially self-focus. It is, in the words of Grimes (2000), an “acted-out adventure story” (p. 116), with an individual protagonist. Initiation, in contrast, is about forging bonds between generations.

 Moving forward

            Tony Alvarez (2017) has said the goals of adventure therapy are to “enhance hope; promote meta-perspective, peaceful resolution of problems, empowerment, (and) self determination; (and foster) compassion, empathy and understanding”. Possibly the most important step in addressing the questions raised in this paper is to foment discussion, both within the outdoor field, and between adventure practitioners and members of indigenous communities. Some excellent discussion is already taking place,  although too often this remains peripheral. It is important to recognise that the answers are not necessarily simple, uniform, or static. It is a conversation ideally approached with openness, respect, courage and empathy, and an awareness that it takes place within the context of a long history of indigenous peoples not being in control of their own stories. Those who are directly involved should be consulted. In the example of the didjeridu, communities from northern Australia where the didjeridu is a traditional instrument should be central players within those discussions.

            Rather than somehow purging all vestiges of indigenous cultures from outdoor programming, which may be neither feasible nor advisable, a more helpful approach might be to examine the origins, purpose and impact of all the elements of programming. This includes the implicit messages communicated and the assumptions which undergird practice. This is an important and beneficial process regardless of content, and one which naturally occurs through program evaluation. However the emphasis here is the impact not on individual participants, but specifically the ramifications for indigenous communities and cultures, and even the wider impacts on the environment and social fabric as a whole.

            It may be that use of indigenous rites in programming could be a beneficial and healing tool for all involved. Oles, who is a Mohawk/Cayuga Indian from the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, states “this is not to say that sweat baths, solo experiences, quests, walk-abouts, and so on are inappropriate for use in programs. Just don’t couch them in language or metaphorical contexts that cause them to appear to be something that they could never be.” (Oles, 1992, p.21). If indigenous rites or stories or imagery are to be used, Norris (2011) suggests imagining an indigenous elder was listening and observing as a form of accountability. Given the damage done by centuries of indigenous lore being defined and communicated by non-indigenous people, it may be better practice to only include traditional content that was being taught by traditional custodians.

            There is wisdom within indigenous cultures which is not exclusive, and could be beneficial to outdoor and adventure programming without being harmful to indigenous cultures or peoples. It is possible to learn and take on wisdom without romanticising or stealing from cultures. Indigenous ways of knowing are often rooted in the context of relationship, responsibility, reciprocity and family. Rather than adding components of lore or practice to programs, these attitudes and ways of knowing can be foundational to programme rationale and design. They can be built into the ethos and character of the programme, and shape the praxis. Rather than nation specific lore and legend, programme design could encourage a world-view which emphasises less individuality and a more communal approach, more connected communities, less consumerism and a more harmonious approach to interaction with the environment. It could develop the notions of responsibility, reciprocity and accountability. Clearly there are limits. ‘Challenge by Choice’ for instance, assumes individual autonomy, a concept antithetical to the communal structures of many indigenous cultures.

            If rites of passage are to remain a focus, more thought needs to be put into the instruction and development of participants within the context of community prior to a transitional rite (as argued by Bell, [2003]), and more defined roles and expectations for the ‘initiated’ to enter into post rite. But as Bell (2003) points out, there are ethical issues in limiting individual freedom that communities need to contend with. If anything can be taken from traditional wisdom, it is that these rituals need to be embedded in community and social structure to have real meaning and impact, and as difficult as that may seem in contemporary society, this may be where real change, growth and healing can occur.

            Some commentators within both the outdoor and indigenous communities have suggested there are myriad examples of stories and heroes within the Western tradition which could be used as tools in outdoor education and adventure therapy (Oles, 1992). This is worthy of consideration, however the same examination is necessary. Present day Western cultures such as contemporary Australian are an amalgamation of many cultural entities, wholly representing none of the parts which make them up. Any traditions which are not indigenous are typically rooted in a Northern Hemisphere context, and lack connection to the physical Australian landscape. It could be argued that to impose a Celtic or Germanic – or Vietnamese or Chinese tradition into a contemporary American or Australian culture seems somewhat artificial. Conversely, it could be argued that pulling single threads from a rich and eclectic conglomerated past is precisely the manner in which post modern Western cultures are constructed and re-imagined. Others have suggested creating new ‘myths’ and rituals, a process that occurs relatively naturally in the world of camps and expeditions, and transient outdoor communities, but basing the myths within the context of the camp or program.

            Considering the long history of both appropriation and land use, the outdoor field seems an ideal venue for bringing change and inviting discussion into what is a wider social problem. The outdoor world is often symbolic of healing and growth, connection, wholeness, simplicity and purity, while the contemporary cultural reality for many indigenous people is one of brokenness, disadvantage, struggle, identity distortion and complexity. It is a prime arena to create dialogue and spaces to educate non-indigenous people on the scope and impact of institutionalised racism and cultural colonialism and allow indigenous peoples to define themselves. Rather than damaging with mimicry and facsimile, adventure therapy and the outdoor camping realm could foster an environment which allows indigenous communities to strengthen and cultivate their own cultures, and to communicate that in a dynamic manner both within their own communities, and to the non-indigenous community.



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