When Sierra Dakin Kuiper went on a whitewater rafting day trip down the Bull River near Fernie in 2010, she didn’t imagine the impact it would have on her life.
Her raft guide was a graduate of College of the Rockies’ Mountain Activity Skills Training (MAST) program, held at the Fernie campus. Though she grew up in Lethbridge, AB., Sierra had spent considerable time hiking, skiing, and canoeing in the Canadian Rockies with friends and family. Since she loves sharing her enthusiasm for outdoor recreation with others and was also interested in staying close to home, her guide recommended she enroll in the MAST program.
“The program appealed to me because it was action-packed and skills based, which allowed me to explore a variety of outdoor adventure opportunities and leadership styles,” she says. “It was also conveniently located in my home region.”
After completing the MAST program, Sierra worked for a season as an Out Trip Leader at YMCA Camp Elphinstone on the Sunshine Coast before applying for and being selected by the College to travel to Dar Es Saleem, Tanzania for a student practical opportunity. During this placement, Sierra co-designed and filmed a 20-minute video highlighting adventure tourism studies and job opportunities in both Canada and Tanzania.
Her time in Tanzania motivated Sierra to pursue further education. She attended the University of Lethbridge and completed a Bachelor of Arts with Distinction in Anthropology. She then worked for four seasons as an Interpretive Guide with Parks Canada, designing and delivering public outreach programs to visitors in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Sierra’s work with Parks Canada inspired her to return to graduate school to pursue a Master’s in Sociocultural Anthropology at Brandeis University in Boston. Brandeis was appealing to her because it offered the opportunity to pursue independent research guided by respected scholars.
As a part of her program, she conceived, designed and implemented all aspects of a mix-methods fieldwork project with support from the Department of Anthropology. Inspired by her time in the MAST program, Sierra’s research explores the social and environmental issues facing communities in her home region and what is being done to resolve these issues. Her study explores local residents’ perspectives on land use and creation of protected areas in the transboundary Flathead Watershed, within the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation.
“I wanted to explore why recreation is possible in the Rockies,” she explains. “What historical conditions made it possible for adventure tourism and for the designation of national parks in this region and who are the people who promote adventure tourism and who benefit from it?”
Due to graduate in 2018, Sierra will make her home in Washington, DC but hopes, at some point, to return to the Rockies.