Breaking the ice: Somali-American youth in America’s winter wilderness

Wilderness Inquiry’s winter Boundary Waters trip with Ka Joog, a nonprofit that works with Somali youth, was recently featured in Minnesota Monthly Magazine. By Alexandra Baumhardt.

The world outside the 15-passenger van is blindingly white. Snow blankets the forest floor, the white pine and birch trees, and falls from a phosphorescently bright, white sky. 

Inside, 11-year-old Saed Mohamed of Minneapolis presses his nose against the window. “How’d you know there’d be snow up here?” he asks the twentysomething wilderness guide at the wheel. Somewhat apprehensively, Saed zips his coat up to his chin and pulls his hat over his ears. Though he’s grown up in Minnesota, this is totally new territory for him.

More than 300 miles north of the Twin Cities, a group of 11 Somali-Minnesotan boys, ages 7 to 14 years old, arrives in an expansive forest within the Boundary Waters. Cell phone signals drop, and the boys breathe collective sighs of discontent. The van parks at the edge of Bearskin Lake, one of 1,175 in the Boundary Waters that are now frozen solid, making the area less of a boundary and more of a bridge.

Building bridges is what has brought them up here in the first place. The group includes four guides from Wilderness Inquiry—a nearly 40-year-old, Minneapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to making the outdoors accessible for all, including people with disabilities and underserved youth—and two leaders from Ka Joog, a Somali youth advocacy group.


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