Yá’át’ééh shí éí Renee Hutchens yinishyé. Tódich’ii’nii nishłį́, Bilagáana báshishchíín, Tabaaha dashicheii, Bilagáana dashinálí.
My name is Renee Hutchens, I am from the Bitterwater clan, and a member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation. My introduction in Navajo tells of my relationships and my identity that is inseparable from the land with a history that dates back millennia. I grew up connecting with the land through biking since I was a kid. But my relationship with the land began at birth when my umbilical cord was buried in the ground between our four sacred mountains encompassing our homeland. For nine months, my umbilical cord attached me to my mother, and it was by this pathway that I was nourished, protected, and grew. It tied me to life. When my umbilical cord was buried, this represented a transition from being nourished by my mother to a life of nurturing by Mother Earth. An immediate sacred relationship was established to tie me to my home, our sacred land, Diné Bikéyah. In this way, as I grew older I would always know my source of nourishment and maintain this connection over my lifetime. Therefore, I like to say that I was destined to ride bikes, and to love and protect our land.
From the first interactions with Indigenous people to the modern day, white colonizers in North America have worked toward one thing: destruction. Destruction of Indigenous lives through violence and legal institutions, destruction of our land and natural resources, and destruction of our cultures and identities. We still live with the psychological, spiritual, and physical trauma of what colonization did to us and still attempts to do to render us invisible. I find value in intentionally seeking what was lost, in remembering what was forgotten because this is at the center of what it means to decolonize and heal. Decolonization is about reclaiming what was taken and honoring and breathing life back into our deep cultural traditions. For this, I need the land. Every time my tires hit the dirt, I reclaim myself, my identity, and my culture held in the land. My movement is an interwoven dynamic with the language of the earth, our Diné creation story, the spirits of my ancestors and the elements of nature. My elders have told me that we decolonize through all our senses. The smell of sage and cedar trees along the trail are tied to memories, ceremonies, and stories about why we burn sage, tobacco, and cedar. 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. I taste my own sweat and feel the cleansing, healing and quieting of my mind and remember the importance of our traditional ways of healing and use of sweat lodges. What I see in the outdoors is endless: the mountains, canyons, hummingbirds, lightening, rain, horned lizards, animal tracks, coyotes, and plants to name a few are all tied to stories and the power of our oral tradition. It reminds me to always stay connected to my elders and medicine men in my family – the holders of these stories. Even the colors of the land and everything on it are connected to our art, jewelry, rug weaving, and pottery. The land is everything to us. It is the one place I can go to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch my peoples’ narrative that acknowledges I am still here, we are still here.
One of the biggest barriers we face is the erasure of Indigenous peoples. Our invisibility makes it easier for non-Indigenous people to fill the void with their own false narratives and toxic myths about us, our history, and our lands. This is my experience every day in the mountain bike community, where I constantly encounter cultural appropriation, racial slurs, bias, discrimination, and microaggressions. 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. This is one of the many reasons systemic racism is very harmful and destructive, and why I launched the #NotYourTribe petition with other Indigenous outdoor advocates and cyclists. The petition asked Yeti Cycles to end the use of ‘Yeti Tribe’ and associated marketing, and to change the name of all Yeti Cycles events they call, ‘Yeti Tribe gatherings.’ While this was the specific ask, the goal was much larger—it was about truth, justice, equity, and inclusivity of Indigenous people in the spaces we occupy such as the cycling community. The petition was not about political correctness, but about eliminating actions like those of Yeti Cycles that are in nature the same actions that perpetuate negative stereotypes, discrimination, and give rise to harmful Native American imagery and mascots. The cruel irony is that Native peoples survived removal, forced assimilation, attempted genocide, and destruction of our natural resources, culture, and identity only to live in a country that acts like we no longer exist. This is why I intentionally challenge the societal norms about Native peoples, and counter discrimination, invisibility and the dominant narratives. The vitriolic response to the petition demonstrates that the mountain bike community is not inclusive, and we still have a ways to go to move toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion of Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
So, I go back to where my story begins, and even where the story of mountain biking begins, the land, our Mother Earth. The mountain bike industry must realize that if we are talking about bikes, we must include the narratives of Indigenous peoples who were the first stewards of the land. Because without our ancestors, without the land, mountain biking would cease to exist. My ride will always be a journey of reclaiming my cultural identity because I am on the land – a sacred place that holds the power to heal and restore wholeness for myself and my people to stand strong and resilient. I will never stop carving out space for Indigenous people’s existence, stories, and healing. It’s time to re-imagine mountain biking for my people.
Renee Hutchens is an advocate for Native lands, public health and environmental issues, land conservation, and social justice for Indigenous peoples. She advocates for these issues by combining her culture’s rich oral tradition of storytelling with photography, film, writing, social media, and mixed media artwork. She is also a coach for the Vida MTB Series and an ambassador for Patagonia. You can follow her @renay.h.
All were always welcome, now maybe all will come in