If anyone would have told Chris Hill she’d grow up to dedicate her career and life to conserving the outdoors, she might have laughed in their face. As a kid living in Maryland, she hated the mosquitos and humidity of the natural world.
A middle school summer camp experience changed the trajectory of her life.
“What I loved about it is that they not only allowed kids to get outside in nature and really get immersed in it, but they also taught you the importance of conserving and protecting the nature and the places that we played on.”
She’s loved the outdoors ever since.
Today, she’s been called “Alaska’s Most Interesting Lobbyist,” and has been the subject of an award-winning short film about her life and work advocating for the environment.
Being an outdoors person hasn’t been easy, especially as a Black woman environmentalist. Chris has run into every stereotype about the outdoors from Black and non-Black people. Growing up, what she saw — and what she didn’t see — reinforced those misbeliefs.
“Whether it was rock climbing or hiking and backpacking, I never saw anybody that looked like me and that really hurt,” Chris said. “I was growing up and realizing that maybe this isn’t the place that I should be, maybe I’m not the one who should be enjoying nature, maybe that’s a thing for white people.”
Chris was unwilling to give up on the thing that made her the happiest, so in addition to becoming an advocate for the environment, she’s become a relentless leader in ensuring access and inclusion in the outdoors community.
Her love of nature brought her to the state through regular backpacking, rafting and fishing trips in some of the most beautiful locations in the world. She met her future husband on one of those trips, and that’s what made her finally stay. Chris said there aren’t very many Black people in Haines, where she now lives, and that can be a daily challenge. But she said it’s been encouraging to learn about the larger Black community throughout Alaska.
“We are here,” Chris said. “And we have an important voice to speak of when we talk about politics whether that’s environmental work or housing, food and other human rights issues we face in Alaska.”
Instead of the tone of disgust she may have had as a child, Chris now talks about nature with a sense of awe and a mixture of respect and childlike joy. She uses that voice to fight for, build, protect and strengthen not only Alaska’s environment but also its communities.