For some, mountain biking is a way to get some good exercise, fresh air and to do a safe, socially-distant activity with a few friends — for the Homalco First Nation, however, it does a bit more than that.
“We know this is a recreational opportunity, obviously there’s a health and wellness aspect of it, but it’s also kind of the contemporary version of a land-based healing type of activity,” said Allan Campbell, a clinical counsellor.
Campbell started the Homalco First Nation Bike Program with Natalie Crawford, another counsellor for the First Nation. They both saw people who had mental health struggles due to the social distancing requirements of the pandemic, and realized there must be some way to help. Both are avid cyclists, and thought that bringing mountain biking to the village would be a great way for people to begin recovering from the toll of the pandemic.
“With the COVID restrictions we were struggling to bring people together. We couldn’t bring people together. Working in community. Coming together is such a big part of Indigenous culture,” said Crawford.
“A lot of clients were reporting to me that they were feeling quite alone,” she added. “As the counsellor working with a lot of different people I actually knew that there were lots of folks doing the same thing and feeling the same way.”
The group started earlier this spring. Campbell and Crawford were able to get some grant funding to buy a fleet of bikes from two Campbell River bike shops. From there they asked anyone in the village who was interested to come out and join. The first event was a skills-building workshop followed by a trail ride in the areas around the village.
Though the traditional territory of the Homalco is on the mainland across the Salish Sea from Campbell River, Campbell said that “getting out on the land and being amongst the trees and in nature is kind of healing. Indigenous perspectives adhere to that as well as non-Indigenous perspectives.”
“There’s even some recent scientific connection to some of the work of Bruce Perry around the neuroscience that plays into why things that are repetitive like mountain biking and skateboarding are so effective,” he added.
Perry is a neuroscientist who says repetitive actions like pedalling a bike, walking, running, skateboarding or dancing can help reduce anxiety and move to a calmer state of mind. While Perry’s research is on children who have experienced trauma, Campbell said that he just has to watch a community member ride to see the results.
“The proof’s in the pudding,” he said. “We’ve even had a number of adults that haven’t ridden a bike in a number of years get out. Their legs hurt, but they have a smile on their face and they’re exhilarated by the fact that they’ve been whizzing around the community on a bike.”
The cycling group hopes the idea catches on, and they’re able to move on to other activities like trail building, which as Crawford says “will help with connection to the land and getting people outside in ways that are healthy.”
Campbell agrees, saying he likes “the idea of being on the land, using the land for recreational purposes and riding a bike on the finished product.”
The Homalco First Nation Bike Program will be out on Saturday, June 3 for Go by Bike Week at a station set up on the corner of Jubilee and Dogwood from 9:30 to 11:30.