Cory Maria Dack is an Indigenous Latina who recently finished thru-paddling the entire Mississippi River - all 2,552 miles/4,108 km - source to sea, an incredible adventure that took over 134 days.
Born in Ecuador and raised in the U.S. (in Duluth, Minnesota near the Canadian border), Cory has been an adventure guide and outdoor leader for nearly 20 years. She decided to thru-paddle the most famous waterway in the U.S. in part to increase representation of women of color, fat bodied people, immigrants, queer folks, and other demographics often left out of the narrative on the water and in the outdoor recreation world.
Cory’s main mission and message on her Mississippi River Trip was to “Decolonize Thru-Paddling,” a play on words that highlighted how she and her paddle partners:
Decolonized the concept of a “thru-paddle” (paddling all the way through a waterway, source to sea)
Uplifed messages of decolonization “thru” the act of paddling.
What does it mean to “decolonize” something?
Decolonization is the important practice of unpacking ways of life that support and are informed by systemic racism, colonization, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and any other form of systemic violence. Cory and her friends “Decolonized Thru Paddling” by:
Bridging equity gaps through representation of Women, People of Color, fat bodied people, members of the LGBQT+ community, immigrants, economically disadvantaged people, and other demographics that are underrepresented on the water and in the outdoors
Honoring Native American/Indigenous Land by being in community and ceremony with Native communities, elders, and water protectors across the country
Being grounded in community-driven values: they prioritized meeting people who live on the River and delighted in making new friends and connections along the way
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Who is Cory
Born in Ecuador, but being raised in Minnesota
Currently being on a national tour called - Canoe Mobile
Being adopted at 3 months old
Her early years and not being outdoorsy
Getting into the outdoors in her early 20s
Working at a summer camp and learning new skills
Gaining new qualifications while at camp
Becoming a canoe guide
Feeling like an imposter
Having empowering mentors who have supported and encouraged her
Knowing that she belongs and that she deserves to be there
Ignoring the other systems (gender, wealth, race, age) that were telling her she didn’t belong
Decolonization and why we do the things we do
Who is worthy to spend time in the outdoors
Coming up with the idea to thru-paddle the Mississippi River
Spending 100 days on the Mississippi River and wanting to do another long river trip
Working for 3 seasons and using grassroots funding to pay for the journey
Recognising her privilige
Wanting to empower others to go on adventures
Wanting to take her time on the journey and meet communities along the way
Fears and concerns before the journey
Dealing with the cold weather and winter while on the river
Starting the journey at the end of August
Mental health struggles while on the river
Reaching out to community and asking for help
134 days on the river
Having Emily Ford come and join her for 200 miles on the river
Daily life while on the river and finding peace and a new rhythm to living
Not feeling safe going solo
Paddling with Sarah for the final 1000 miles
Paddling through the twin cities
Connecting with many local community groups
Bdóte ('meeting of waters' or 'where two rivers meet') considered to be a place of spiritual importance to the Dakota People.
Brining communities together in a moment of celebration
The truth behind Fort Snelling and the land it stands on
A time for medicine and a time for healing
Making an offering to the water/river
Reflecting back on the journey - success and lessons learned
How do you define success on a journey
Adjusting back to normal life
Rolling straight into the canoe mobile tour
Celebrating the end of the journey
Working with a therapist and being able to speak to them while on the river
How to connect with Cory
Final words of advice
Wanting everyone to know that they belong in nature, outside, outdoors and it’s safe for them to be there.
The power of starting small
Women on the Water Website: www.women-on-the-water22.com
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