Emerald LaFortune – An Advocate for Women and Non-Binary River Guides
Emerald LaFortune. It’s a name you can’t forget and once you meet her, you’ll find her character matches her name. Bright and bold, Emerald grew up on the rivers of Idaho and still calls the state home. She is an advocate for women and non-binary guides as well as an accomplished river guide, advocate and educator and writer.
Many moons ago, I ran the Main Salmon with Emerald. It was my first time guiding on the Main Salmon and it was Emerald’s first trip lead. AND she was dory guiding! I remember being impressed right off the bat. Over the course of that week I got to know her and now years later she still has a leading role in the guiding community. In 2018, she guided with Canyons on our Women’s Adventure Retreat trip. It fulfilled a dream of Canyons to have Emerald do a cameo appearance.
I got to reconnect with Emerald when we attended the America Outdoors Conference in Salt Lake City last year. She was on a panel educating guides about sexism and sexual harassment in our field. The salient conversation that took place was an effective tool for creating new ideas on how the river community can stay ahead of the curve in improving communication, promoting gender equity, and striving for a work environment that is safe and comfortable for both guides and guests. After the session, I got to chat with Emerald and here are excerpts of our conversation.
I remember you saying that you ran your first river trip around 7 years old. Can you tell me what river that was and what was the main thing that stuck with you about that experience?
It was a Middle Fork of the Salmon trip. I was so nervous about the whitewater I insisted that I was going to walk around every named rapid. After a heinous walk around Sulphur Slide, my parents decided they couldn’t do a full river trip like that. In a risky but ultimately beneficial parenting move, they just didn’t tell me that the next big rapid, Velvet Falls, was coming up. By the time I realized I was duped, it was too late, and I ended up loving it. I haven’t walked around a rapid since!
On my first trip with you, I remember you being a capable leader that everyone could really feel confident in. You were dynamic, graceful, accessible and fun. As an accomplished leader, and a woman, where do you feel you draw your inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from the generation of women guides that came before me. Some of these women are awesome, open mentors – some of ’em make life hell for younger women on the river. But they have in common that they elbowed their way into an industry that wasn’t excited about welcoming them in. As a young girl, I saw them commercially boating and knew it was a possibility for me too.
Also, I draw inspiration from Beyonce. Hear me out. She has shown me what it looks like to be both a fiercely physically and emotionally strong athlete while also celebrating her femininity. To me, she also shows that women’s experiences deserve a place on center stage. There was a long time where I thought to be perceived as strong in the outdoors I had to appear as masculine as possible, talk about what the guys did, keep up with the guys. Beyonce’s art is helping me work through that and find a middle ground that is more honest with who I truly am.
Aside from being a good business practice, it is part of Canyons core values both on and off the water to genuinely welcome and include everyone on our river trips and lovingly respect each individual. Immersion into the wilderness washes away the mundane and prosaic, revealing the beautiful and authentic beings that have been there all along. We believe part of how you create the space for this to happen is to hire a team of guides that represent our population of guests. Women, men, binary, non-binary and everything in between (or outside of!). Can you tell us why you feel it is important to promote gender equity on the river?
The more varied a crew, the stronger it is. A gender-equitable crew is better able to problem solve and serve its guests. Plus, it’s important to show our guests and ourselves women doing dangerous, physical work like rowing rapids or performing rescues and men doing nurturing work like cooking meals or tending to bumps and scrapes. I don’t know how many times a parent has told me how important it is that I’m out there modeling possibility for their child. We all have different strengths, and a gender-equitable river crew allows us to practice leaning into those strengths regardless of the gender they are traditionally aligned with.
What are 3 words that describe your Canyons experience with us last year?
Laughter – Strength – Friendship – Bombass Breakfasts (seriously – Canyons does the most amazing cooked-to-order breakfast I’ve ever seen!
You can find more of Emerald’s work and sign up for her newsletter at www.emeraldlafortune.com or find her on instagram @emeraldlensmedia.
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