Written by Mackenzie Brown
It was such a gift to be introduced to Mack through one of our previous giveaways. Mackenzie is an Indigenous woman, a skillful artist, a storyteller and a climber. Mackenzie shares her talents and invites others to learn about her Cree heritage and her connection to the land through her music, her artwork and her writing. We are honoured to share her story and we hope that this story inspires you to learn about the Indigenous peoples who first inhabited the land we live on and honoured the rocks we love to climb.
"It is a special feeling I have when my hands are on the same rock my ancestors touched for thousands of years."
ᑖᓂᓯ, ᓂ ᐃᓭᔨᐦᑳᓱᐣ ᓇᒣᐃᐧ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᓂᕽ ᐅᐦᒋ ᓂᔭ
Tânsi kamamak, Mackenzie Brown ni-îsiyihkâson Namêwi Sâkahikanihk ohci niya
Hello, my name is Mackenzie Brown. I am a Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree Woman) hailing from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation. I am a drummer, singer, storyteller, artist, and a climber.
photo credit : Julianna Dobbie
I started climbing seriously after recovering from an Eating Disorder. Climbing for me was a way of connecting with my body in a healthy way that was more than just physical exercise.
In Indigenous ways of wellbeing, we take a holistic approach that looks at balancing one's physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. For me, climbing was so much more than a physical sport- it was a way of connecting with the land, connecting with my body, my ancestors' spirits, and other climbers. I found community and healing in climbing.
Climbing has been an important activity for me because it has helped me connect back with my body. After recovery from Anorexia Nervosa, climbing was an activity that my therapist and I identified as an activity for me to do. Climbing is a very social activity, lower impact, you need to rest in between routes, and it is also an activity that invites you to be in tune with how your body is moving. This was imperative for me in my recovery and has become a large part of my life.
photo credit : Julianna Dobbie
"Climbing is not new to Indigenous peoples and is
very much a part of our traditional stories."
For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have been traveling these lands and gathering in the same places we gather today as modern-day climbers. Climbing is not new to Indigenous peoples and is very much a part of our traditional stories. Many of the places we climb today were traditionally named by the Indigenous groups who traveled through these areas or called these lands home. Indigenous place names have been renamed since colonial contact.
As an Indigenous climber, I need to know the traditional lands I am on, the language, and the original peoples. Indigenous languages are verb or action-based, whereas English is a noun-based language. When you learn a traditional name of an area, most often, you learn something more profound. Indigenous names typically translate into descriptive words that tell you a story about the land and the peoples.
Yosemite Valley, for example, was originally known to its inhabitants as Ahwahnee—a "gaping, mouth-like place," according to Scott Beeler, in the 1995 Journal of the American Name Society. Another well-known climbing mountain, Stawamus Chief, has a traditional name: Siyám Smánit. The Skwxwú7mesh Nation has a story of a young warrior leading a two-headed serpent up Siyám Smánit. It is believed that the serpent left a black streak going up the mountain as he followed the warrior. This streak is known to most climbers as the Black Dyke.
"Wahkohtowin- having good relations with everything- plant beings, water beings, four-legged, crawlers and rock beings"
Climbing is a way of reclaiming my connection to the Earth. When I climb, I am truly in relation with the Earth. When you climb, you listen to the rock, you feel it, and you work together to get through the problem you're on. This idea of being in good relation is a foundational Indigenous teaching. We call this wahkohtowin- having good relations with everything- plant beings, water beings, four-legged, crawlers and rock beings. When you start to think about the land as a relative, you will treat it differently. So when you climb, try to think of the history of that land and how we can help preserve it for future climbers.
There are not many Indigenous climbers that I have come across. However, there is a fantastic Indigenous climbing collective called Indigenous Womxn Climbing. It is inspiring to see other womxn of color occupying space in climbing. People of color need to see role models who look like us. When we see people like us doing different things, we start to think, "well, I could do that too." So for me, climbing has become a way of inspiring future Indigenous climbers.
I am also a traditional drummer. The drum signifies the heartbeat of Mother Earth, and I feel that heartbeat in myself every time my hands touch the cool rock. The heartbeat has a strong beat and a weak beat, and our life reflects that. There will be hard times- like those times you won't be able to get a route- but there will also be easier times like when you finally reach the top, take a deep breath and see the beautiful view around you.
photo credit: Julianna Dobbie
"When I get to the top of a route and have a chance to look around at the scenery surrounding me before rappelling back to the ground, it reminds me that I am such a small part of the world."
One of my favorite things about climbing is the mental game of it. Of course, climbing is physical, but so much of it is also based on technique and solving natural puzzles. I was drawn to climbing because it gave me as much of a mental workout as a physical one. There is nothing better than FINALLY figuring out a route you've been working so hard on.
I encourage fellow climbers to think about the traditional lands they are climbing on. I also encourage fellow climbers to create relations with the lands you are on. Climbing is a beautiful sport that creates a beautiful community and is an incredible way to have a stronger relationship with our homelands.
My other favorite thing about climbing is the connection it provides. Whether it's sharing sandwiches at the crag with my best friends or feeling one with the rock I am climbing, I feel connected to so much when I climb. When I get to the top of a route and have a chance to look around at the scenery surrounding me before rappelling back to the ground, it reminds me that I am such a small part of the world. It assures me that whatever problems I may be facing in my life are tiny compared to the beauty of the world. It reminds me that no matter what route I am climbing, that I am strong, resilient, and Indigenous.
There are resources to help you find the traditional Indigenous names of various climbing areas, but some of my favorites are:
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