Vancouver woman breaking barriers in outdoor recreation with new documentary

Eman Salem is working to break down barriers in Vancouver's outdoor community. | Photo submitted by Eman Salem.

After a traumatic and dangerous first overnight camping trip, a Vancouver woman is healing through hiking and inspiring others to do the same.

Eman Salem, the creator of IronSelf, is producing a film with the hopes it will empower Black, Indigenous and people of colour who feel unwelcome or out of place in the outdoor community.

“There isn’t really much representation out there for people who are queer, people who are immigrants, people who are Black, people who have big bodies. You don’t really see that,” said Salem.

“When I see white, cis-gendered males always doing certain things, it makes me feel like I don’t belong there. So even if I can do it, I don’t feel like I am welcome.”

She has always loved the outdoors, but it didn’t come naturally.

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Salem moved to Canada from Egypt at the age of 10.

When it came to outdoor recreation, she felt like an outsider.

Salem hopes by sharing her experience, others will be inspired to get outside too. | Photo submitted by Eman Salem.

“One might wonder what systemic racism has to do with the outdoor community. The outdoors are for everyone, everyone is welcome,” Salem said.

“I think there is a difference between ‘All (are) welcome’ and ‘This was designed with you in mind.'”

Read more: People of colour have always loved the outdoors, and Canadian companies are noticing

In 2017, she embarked on her first overnight hiking trip on Tenquille Lake Trail in Pemberton with little preparation.

“I went into full panic mode and fainted,” she recalled.

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“Luckily, there were two strangers that happened to be nearby that ended up finding us and helped me be dragged through the snow.”

After that, she swore she would give up the passion for good.

“For someone like me who immigrated to this country, never learned how to be outdoors, and didn’t have many examples of people like me in the outdoors, I just didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she recalled.

After taking time to heal, she decided to try again.

The IronSelf movie is currently filming, set to premiere in February 2022. | Photo submitted by Eman Salem.

“The strength of vulnerability, the strength of compassion, the strength of community are really the things I started to lean on,” said Salem.

“The beauty is when someone says yeah, me too. All of a sudden, there’s this strength of maybe I don’t have to do this by myself.”

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Determined to learn more, she connected with Colour the Trails founder Judith Kasiama, who also advocates for representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour in the outdoors.

Armed with a $30 pair of consignment-store hiking boots, Salem set out to document her journey.

“What really stuck with me after the trauma, was I felt so alone,” said Salem. “I couldn’t even go to Stanley Park.”

“I’m still kind of scared, but I have gotten a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident.”

Now with a plethora of experience under her belt, she has dedicated herself to breaking down barriers in the outdoor community.

“Your heart feels full when you realize other people are out there doing the same thing,” she grinned.

“That’s what representation is all about. It helps with a sense of belonging, a sense of humanness.”

She has recently received a grant for the documentary, which is in the filming stages, before it premieres next year.

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