WADING IN THE SOUL RIVER
Veteran, filmmaker, advocate, and fly angler, Chad Brown is one of the busiest men in the outdoor industry–and he's leading the way when it comes to real inclusion.By Doug Schnitzspahn
Chad Brown is a busy man. He’s working in multiple directions on multiple projects at once—but they all have one focus: making the outdoors feel safe for everyone. He calls me when he has service way up in Inupiat lands in northern Alaska. The founder of Soul River, a nonprofit that connects inner city youth and veterans through fly angling, Brown is often in Alaska fishing and exploring but he is here now working on a film about Siqiniq, a Inupiaq Indigenous woman who finds herself at the intersection of environment and Native concerns in the Alaskan tundra. Raised away from the Inupiat tribe and with a white father who works in the oil industry, she has come under fire as an environmental activist by the tribe, which benefits from oil money and views her as an outsider. “We are making sure we are with her because she has been threatened,” Brown tells me.
Brown’s film will explore the space of both belonging in nature and feeling like a cultural outsider. It’s one of three film projects he is currently working on, all of which approach nature from a BIPOC perspective—but the most important work he’s currently engaged in is an initiative to make the outdoors safe for people who have been marginalized. And he hopes to bolster that with federal legislation. Called Stalwarts of Safety (SOS), the program will push for the passage of Oregon SB 289, which would help protect people of color in outdoor spaces by keeping those convicted of certain racially biased crimes off state lands. SOS is pushing for national legislation on these lines, and working for an end goal of simply making historically marginalized people feel safe in the outdoors and creating a compassionate dialogue about safe spaces.
Raised in Austin, Texas, and a graduate of New York City’s Pratt Institute, Brown served in the US Navy during the first Gulf War and on missions to war zones including Somalia. That experience left him with PTSD—but he found solace in wild places, in fishing, in the far north, and through the companionship of his faithful service dog, Ax. He started Soul River inspired by the positive experiences he had as a child in the Big Brothers program in Texas. Soul River puts urban youth out on “deployments” in the wild, where they discover the powerful connections, self-awareness, and sense of self-worth that comes through adventure and contemplation in nature. The program has earned Brown numerous accolades, including a Breaking Barriers Award from Orvis and the Bending Toward Justice Award from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.
September 24, 2021