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Peaks of Colour: the POC walking group taking up space in the outdoors

The group is a safe space for people of colour in the northwest to explore the outdoors – and heal in the process

If there’s one thing I tend to immediately notice when I’m walking along the hills of the Peak District, it’s how few people of colour are around. The outdoors is a notoriously white-dominated space, and it can feel pretty overwhelming attempting to enter this space alone as a woman of colour (especially when people love to stare at you as if you couldn’t possibly belong on Mam Tor).

That’s where Peaks of Colour comes in. Founded by Evie Muir, Peaks of Colour is a nature-for-healing club by and for people of colour that hosts monthly walks and workshops in the Peak District. Community is at the heart of what they do, and as someone who’s attended a few of their walks this year, I can attest to the vital work they’re doing to disrupt the status quo in outdoor spaces. Not only that, but it’s a way to connect with people from a variety of backgrounds but with one common love: the outdoors.

Dazed spoke to Muir about Peaks of Colour, their journey as a collective, and the importance of nature and healing.

Could you tell us a bit about why you started Peaks of Colour? Why is it so important that people of colour are able to carve out and take up space in outdoor spaces?

Evie Muir: Peaks of Colour exists at the intersections of multiple forms of oppression, and is just one experimental response and solution to injustices like racial, gender, and health injustice. It’s a response that recognises those injustices are interlinked and mutually dependent upon each other.

I founded Peaks of Colour in July 2021, at the height of the global pandemic – a time which really highlighted to us all how much we depend on the outdoors. But you had it where people of colour were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and yet were disproportionately less likely to access the outdoors. Those two things may not seem connected, but they really are. Because fundamentally, the outdoors is a space of healing.

When you’re talking about a global health crisis that locks people in their houses and only allows us to have one walk a day, and we do not feel comfortable, confident or safe enough to access the outdoors, then we have a real problem. There’s an inequality of healing. The need for this was heightened even more so in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, where communities of colour were experiencing collective racialised trauma and needed – and still need – spaces to heal.

How has Peaks of Colour evolved since you first founded it last summer? And what are your goals for the organisation over the next year or so?

Evie Muir: We’ve evolved in many ways, from a modest walking club to a much wider nature-based site for radical healing and justice. We now offer workshops during the summer months, which are creative and holistic workshops set in the outdoors that are led by facilitators of colour and are accompanied by a guided walk. This summer, we hosted a sunbathing workshop, a yoga workshop, nature writing workshops, and have got a lot of exciting ones in the pipeline for 2023. These kinds of workshops really allow us to explore alternative routes of healing and justice.

Peaks of Colour has also evolved in terms of vision. Along the way, I recognised the potential for Peaks of Colour to not just be a walking club, but a space for radical imagining and alternative healing methods for our communities that’s inspired by nature but is also creative, fun and silly. It’s become a point of experimentation in terms of how we organise as a community too. We’re continually exploring how we organise in a way that feels safe and isn’t white-led.

One example of this is that we’ve adopted a seasonal approach to our organising, as a form of resistance to productivity culture. We want to recognise the ways that our bodies are mutually dependent on the seasons and nature, and that means we’ll have heightened periods of organising during the spring and summer months and then during the autumn and winter, we will go into a period of ‘hibernation’.

Black and abolitionist feminism sits at the heart of Peaks of Colour. Could you tell us why this is such an important focus for you and what it means for the group in practice?

Evie Muir: We tap into two strands of Black feminism: the idea that rest is resistance, and Black ecofeminism.

Resting is what we need to fuel our work and our movement, and without it, we simply cannot organise for a better world. A big part of our ethos is that if you’re unable to look after yourself, you won’t be able to look after others. For me, the idea of rest is something that we can all do, at both an individual and community level. Because if we’re healing ourselves, we are ultimately healing generations to come. Intergenerational trauma is passed on both in our DNA and through socialisation, and if the only thing we do in our lifetime is heal ourselves, then we have already changed so much for our children and our grandchildren. 

And then we have abolitionist feminism which is rooted in the idea of hope and imagination, and which is very dangerous for our oppressors. They know that, so they try to squash it, and I felt that the most viscerally when working in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) and charity sectors. These are sectors that have existed for decades, but are no closer to ending poverty or gendered violence. And in my experience, they have lost sight of their original goals. For Peaks of Colour, our goal is to eradicate gendered injustice, racial injustice and land injustice. To do so, we need to be able to think and dream outside of the status quo in order to build our own systems and create real change.

“People of colour were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and yet were disproportionately less likely to access the outdoors. Those two things may not seem connected, but they really are” – Evie Muir

Has Peaks of Colour faced any barriers or challenges to access when it comes to the monthly walks and workshops?

Evie Muir: I don’t like using the term barriers anymore. When we first started I used it quite a bit, but now I feel that it's the language of the oppressor. Using ‘barriers’ dilutes and weakens what's really happening, and that’s violence. Whether it's a barrier at the individual level, community level, societal level, or institutional level; it's violence. So instead, I just call it what it is: the outdoors is racist. It’s definitely something that not many people in the outdoor sector are prepared to hear. 

Things like expensive kit, volunteer training, public transport, accessible routes, and fear of racism are all factors that Peaks of Colour has to regularly contend with. An example of this is that on the October walk, a white woman refused to walk around the group, instead forcing her way through. It was a response to us taking up space: the fact that someone couldn’t possibly walk around us and had to walk through, without saying a simple excuse me or thank you. And that’s sadly just one example of many we’ve experienced on our walks.

The overt racism also comes in the form of online abuse and trolling, which is why we don’t advertise the date or location of our walks outside the closed Facebook group. Barriers aren't barriers for Peaks of Colour – it’s just racism.

You prioritise rest as a form of radical self care and resistance. What’s the relationship between nature and resistance for you?

Evie Muir: Nature has been one of the two most important factors in my ongoing healing and recovery journey as a survivor of domestic abuse and as someone suffers with complex PTSD, anxiety and depression. It’s equally as important to my own healing journey as talking therapy, and has been foundational in my own survival at different points in that journey.

While I was still in abusive relationships, I would quite literally escape to the Peak District to get away from my abuser. It gave me space and isolation. Nature has given me all these different tools of survival in a way that I never had before and to know that I have that is comforting beyond words. No matter how ill or triggered I am, there are so many different tools for me to tap into now to return to myself when I lose myself – whether it’s a long walk, wild swimming, or watching the sunset. The fact that nature has contributed to seeing a future for myself as an activist and organiser is both nourishing and exciting, and sums up the idea of nature and resistance for me.

If you’re a person of colour interested in getting involved with Peaks of Colour, you can request to join the Facebook group here.