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Detroit group reconnecting Black and brown people with nature by bridging the segregation nature gap

Posted at 6:09 PM, Mar 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-01 19:03:31-05

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Have you heard of the nature gap? Years of systemic racism have excluded people of color from the outdoors and is still taking its toll.

Today, most outdoor recreational participants are white.

A Detroit group is rebuilding the historically strained relationship by teaching people of color how to partake in Indigenous outdoor practices, helping them fall back in love with the land.

Deep in the woods, where the wi-fi is weak, are children wandering with wonder.

“Oh wow, it’s dripping, wow,” said one child on the woods walk.

On this cold February afternoon, kids and their families are getting exposed to a part of the world they never knew was so sweet.

A major tradition for Anish nabe people is coming together after a long winter of being apart, coming together to tap maple trees and collecting maple sugar

Antonio Cosme is the co-founder of ‘Black to the Land,’ an organization led by Detroit's Black and Native communities with a mission of bridging what’s been dubbed “the nature gap.”

“We’ve become very disconnected from nature, particularly as an urban people,” said Antonio Cosme.

In the United States, outdoor recreation and whiteness have long gone hand in hand- the outdoor foundation showing 72% of outdoor rec participants are white.

“This need to develop a very safe exclusive space for those who have not really felt home in the quote and quote outdoors,” said Shakara Tyler.

Black to the Land co-founder and mom Shakara Tyler is working hard to make people of color feel welcome.

“So many leaves, woo woo!” said Tyler to her toddler. “You hear that? Sound- yes, the sound.”

"Some family members are confused why my son and I will come out here alone. Do you have a weapon? Are you safe?” said Tyler.

That paranoia? Built on years of brown and Black communities being historically excluded with national parks once segregated and the outdoors synonymous with lynchings and other racial terrorism in the time of slavery and colonialism.

“You see it all the time, altercations happening in parks, in nature, and it’s scary,” said Rosebud Schneider.

Rosebud Schneider of Indigenous Heritage says elements of that discrimination still exist today.

“I have relatives that on tribal lands, that will go fishing and get shot at by other fishers,” said Schneider.

“Really? Yeah, that’s documented- that actually happens,” said Schneider.

Breaking down the fear means re-engaging marginalized communities through hands-on education - the ability to feel and taste the outdoors.

Buckets are now attached to trees all over Rouge Park here and they’re collecting sap right now. This sap is going to be boiled down into maple syrup and even sugar and handed back to the people that helped tap the tree in the first place.

The whole process empowers kids, and a desire to nurture nature.

“You can’t really heal what you don’t love and for us, this process is really about falling back in love with the land,” said Schneider.

“You’re doing the work to change the narrative?” said David.

“Yeah, for sure because we deserve to be out here, we belong out here,” said Schneider.

“What does it feel like– being a mom, being a woman of color seeing your children engage with the land in a way that some of your ancestors didn’t or couldn’t? asked David.

“Within that vein, it feels like a very strong sense of freedom,” said Tyler.

The freedom to step into the unknown and make it their own.