Tours to highlight tribal history not known to enough people. Programs to get more kids on bicycles. Efforts to develop heritage trails for safety and connectivity. “Pedaling the Pueblo,” a podcast created by Living Streets Alliance and sponsored by Tucson’s transportation department. The Instagram account native_women_ride, and through them the film Carlisle 200 currently crowdsourcing funding. I found this and more when I set off on a web search for topics related to Indigenous peoples and bicycling.
This hunt was originally inspired in part by reading the incredible novel There There by Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange. Bicycles often appear in the narrative as key transportation–not a plot point, just a given in the characters’ lives that stands out because I ride. I went looking for programs related to supporting or encouraging tribal members to ride since I work in the world of active transportation.
I used this as the theme for an evening of #BikeSchool, a bikey Q&A Thursday nights on Twitter for which I occasionally serve as the host. It’s no coincidence that I did this on the fourth Thursday in November 2020, known as #NationalDayOfMourning and designated as the federal holiday of Thanksgiving. (Start with this tweet to read the questions from that evening in a thread.)
This piece is also inspired by the opportunities my work has given me to learn about and support the efforts of HollyAnna DeCoteau Littlebull and others in the Yakama Nation to develop the Heritage Connectivity Trail (video, news story), the investments the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has put into building segments of the Olympic Discovery Trail, and other activities in my chosen home state of Washington.
In this search I found an essential piece in Bike Mag by Renee Hutchens, Bitterwater clan of the Diné Nation. It inspired the title of my post and you should go read it first: “We Are Still Here: Fighting for equal space for Indigenous riders.”
Hutchens notes the exploitation and misuse of terms like “tribe” and images taken from tribal traditions in the world of bicycling. “I see the racial slur, ‘savage’ printed on HandUp gloves, bike products named after colonizers who murdered Indigenous people, inaccurate names of sacred places by trail associations, companies marketing false stories about Native lands, bike routes and race events using names that are inherently connected to the genocide and forced removal of Indigenous people from their homelands, and bike events called, ‘Yeti Tribe gatherings.’ These all serve as reminders to us that the colonizer mindset never ended, rather it became more deeply embedded into the fabric of society to become acceptable and normal.” (Petition asking the Yeti mountain bike company to drop their promotional use of “tribe”)
She also celebrates her connection to her people’s land and how bicycling embodies that: “When I ride, I hear my heart beating in rhythm with the heartbeat of the earth, of my people just like I dance to the heartbeat of the drum and our songs.”
One more thing before the list: When you ride on the places labeled North America, Central America, South America, Australia, and other names on maps, you ride on land where people lived long before the arrival of white people and invention of the bicycle. Whose lands do you ride on most often? If you don’t know, find yourself on the native lands map.
You’re invited to comment with more resources directly related to bicycling, particularly programs and information developed by and with tribal and Indigenous people. Some of the items on this list are created for, and it isn’t always clear whether it was done with. I don’t want to highlight anything extractive that co-opts a people’s culture, traditions, or history so tell me if anything on here falls into that.
- NavajoYES youth programs and Diné Bike Project: “a rez-wide project to promote biking and community wellness on the Navajo Nation.” The very name of their land, Diné Bikéyah, embeds the letters spelling out “bike” in the words that mean “the people’s sacred lands”.
- Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council works with Winnipeg Repair Education and Cycling Hub (WRENCH) to provide bikes to Indigenous students ages 16-25 through Cycle Indigena Winnipeg. Indigenous youth get free bikes through local program, Winnipeg Sun, May 11, 2020.
- New Hope Community Indigenous Bike Program based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada: Bike programs modeled on the mountain bike program in Pigangikum, Ontario, which has no year-round road access. Supported by the Pigangikum First Nation and a number of community partners. Bee-mah-kee-way-bah-oo-dee-suun: the Ojibway phonetic spelling of bicycle.
- Riding for Focus: School-based bicycle education program for schools in the Four Corners area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, including schools on the Diné Nation and the Diné Composite NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) Team
- Project Bike Tech: Bicycle technical training program launch announced in 2021 in four high schools in Carbondale, CO; the Ute Reservation in Towaoc, CO; and two Diné communities in New Mexico.
- Indigenous Youth Mountain Bike Project: An honest origin story of a person of European descent coming to terms with their role perpetuating settler colonialism and being invited by a tribal leader to foster mountain biking. “…it has been a vehicle to listen to Indigenous Peoples, to explore and revaluate what it means as a non-Indigenous settler Canadian living on Indigenous lands, to become an ally to Indigenous Peoples.”
Organizations and Groups
- Native Women Ride: “We are a virtual community of Native/Indigenous relatives riding with Mother Earth. Protecting all human and more than human relatives, educating about the land we ride with, and raising awareness about issues impacting Native communities. Native joy above all else.” Group centers FTWN-B (femme, transgender, women and non-binary) riders, shares stories of others.
- American Indian College Fund virtual ride challenge/fundraiser: First held in 2021 in May, National Bicycle Month, and repeated in 2022.
- Tour de SiiHasin: Organized by the Navajo Nation for the past 10 years as of 2022. “400 miles of rez roads” over 12 days in July, riding mostly on dirt roads in Hopi and Navajo lands.
- Portland, Oregon: Pedalpalooza Inaugural Native and Indigenous Bike Ride held August 27, 2022. Photo Essay: Organizers Call Inaugural Native and Indigenous Bike Ride a Success
- Trail of Tears “Remember the Removal” annual ride: Begun in 1984, became annual in 2009; riders are selected through an interview process and developed as both riders and leaders to prepare for the 950-mile ride. “While the style of our shades down to our shoes have changed, and our bikes, technology, and entourage are more sophisticated 37 years later, we still navigate and travel the original Trail each day of the ride, stand in awe of the historic places and markers along the designated highways, test our endurance and emotions, and bond over 950 miles of self-discovery that make us resilient still today.”
- Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Indigenous-led bike tour described in a 2018 CBC video story.
- Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: Bike tours originally developed in 2015 as part of Indigenous History Month were guided by an Indigenous speaker. Updated and put into digital format on a Google map by Kitchener Public Library and Kitchener firm Archaeological Research Associates, which has statements about stewardship and respect on its site; doesn’t appear to be owned by First Nations people. “Bike tour explores Kitchener’s Indigenous history“, The Record, 28 June 2020.
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US: Self-guided Indigenous Milwaukee Walk & Bike Tours, a collaboration between Historic Milwaukee, Inc. and Marquette University’s Indigeneity Lab, available for download. Narrators of the tour include Dr. Mark Powless, general manager of the Oneida Nation; no tribal affiliation mentioned for other narrators. Marquette’s Indigeneity Lab part of self-guided Indigenous Milwaukee tours, Marquette University, Sept. 29, 2022.
- Heritage Connectivity Trail, Yakama Nation, Washington, USA: Video, news story
- Navajo Nation Trails Initiative
- Olympic Discovery Trail, Washington, USA: The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has contributed several segments to this trail across Washington’s Olympic peninsula, as tribal Chairman W. Ron Allen describes in this Rails to Trails Conservancy 2022 article.
- Pedaling the Pueblo, Tucson, Arizona, USA: Podcast
- Carlisle 200: “Carlisle 200 follows Native bikers Guarina Lopez (Pascua Yaqui) and Tsinnijinnie Russell (Diné) on a 200-mile prayer ride from Washington, D.C. to the cemetery at Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Carlisle, PA. Through rain and shine on the long gravel trail, Guarina, Tsinnijinnie, and fellow activist-bikers honor the 190 children buried at Carlisle and raise awareness of the history and ongoing impact of the residential boarding school system on Indigenous communities.” Donate to help them meet their funding for post-production on the film; I did.
Search strategy: I searched on phrases including the words “indigenous” and “bicycle”, again on “Native American” and “bicycle”, another time using “tribal”, and a few combinations with “bike” or “bikes”. I found some activities not included here because their websites didn’t appear to be posting actively; I didn’t go back more than four years. Results were all North American, which is likely an outcome of my typical browser behaviors.
As I searched I also realized I could keep following link after link after link. The nature of the web is such that this list won’t be complete or current–it’s a starter or a sampler. Your knowledge and links will point people to more than I found, I’m sure. Comment and share to build the list.