MLTN Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Episode 1

In addition to offering posts over the next few weeks, in which we will share some things that our work group found useful in our explorations, MLTN is also holding Community Conversations on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that are open to all. Visit the events page to register for those Zoom meetings. 

Welcome MLTN Member Land Trust Staff and Board members! Whether you’re here because you are interested or unsure about incorporating thinking around diversity, equity, and inclusion into the work of land conservation, we’re glad you’re here. Please start by reading this introduction and ‘Essentials for Learning’ in their entirety – they provide context and ways to approach the resources.

Learning Together to Improve Conservation

Maine has had a vibrant and effective land trust and conservation community for decades, with over 80 land trusts of all sizes around the state.  Voluntary land conservation is all about the building of relationships to people and to lands, and land trusts are good at the work.  Land trusts are also constantly striving to do and be better, which in recent decades has included a focus on connecting more people to the land and to the profession of conservation.

In June of 2020, Maine Land Trust Network (MLTN) leadership issued a statement in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other (at the time) recent violence perpetrated against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our country. Many of your organizations signed on to that letter. Words like these need to be followed by actions. 

MLTN exists to support and strengthen Maine land trusts with resources, training, and opportunities for peer-to-peer exchange, so we embarked on an effort to do what we could to support those land trusts in addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion at their organizations. 

This is designed for the current (2021) MLTN member land trust staff and Board members and not all of the communities of Maine. In time, the demographics, identities, and perspectives of this conservation community will likely evolve. 

According to The Avarna Group, which provides, “justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion insights and resources for environmental and outdoor leaders and their organizations,” “‘Diversity’ refers to the differences between us, based on which we experience advantages or encounter barriers to opportunities and resources. [This includes but is not limited to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, economic status, and others.] ‘Equity’ is an approach to ensuring everyone has equal access to the same opportunities, recognizing that advantages and barriers do exist. ‘Inclusion’ is celebrating, valuing, and amplifying perspectives, voices, styles, values, and identities that have been marginalized.” While justice is a key part of this work, the Maine Land Trust Network and community are not yet equipped to provide recommendations as to how to pursue it. Justice will remain a goal to strive for, and calls for a commitment to furthering our own learning.

All this learning takes time and patience. Sometimes it feels like progress should be happening more quickly, but land trusts are discovering that this process is part of the product. Acknowledging and learning from the discomforts is progress. 

In the national context at this point in time, land trusts are reminded to dig a little deeper, and think a bit more broadly about who is served and how, who perhaps is not served, and who makes up our staff and boards.  With conservation work generally aimed at being ‘for perpetuity’, its survival over time hangs not only on words on paper, but also on sufficiently broad public support for aspects of this work, including property tax programs or exemptions for conservation, support for bond funding such as Land for Maine’s Future, and support for upholding legislation over time. 

As the climate, development pressures, land use trends, and other changes affect the lands and waters we care about, we must learn together to deepen our understanding around diversity, equity, and inclusion to improve our work. This is critical for conservation work to thrive long term, for many reasons, including: 

  • With some work, conservation has the potential to benefit many more communities around Maine, in a multitude of ways that include connections to nature and jobs, among others. Building on land trusts’ years of experience, we are well positioned to increase the relevance of our work to even more people;[People-Community] 
  • Work supposed to last ‘in perpetuity’ will rely on a broad spectrum of communities and people supporting and working in it, beyond just existing on paper; [Conservation] 
  • Community members, supporters, donors, and many on the staffs and boards of land trusts have clearly expressed strong interest in seeing diversity, equity, inclusion brought into the work of land trusts;[Business/Org sustainability] 
  • To protect the lands and waters we love and fight the impacts of climate change, we have much to learn from other communities about caring for and stewarding land. [Environment] 

Essentials for Learning

To begin, every person and organization is starting in a different place, working in different communities, and has their own way of functioning as a group. There is no one clear path; there are however essential learnings and practices, including: 

  1. This is a lifetime of work. This work is not a sprint, nor a marathon.  We must be willing to take extra steps and to make the time. Thankfully, we all know what it is to work on the timeframe of ‘perpetuity’. 
  2. Measuring progress looks different. We need to redefine how we think about progress, and we don’t yet know what those metrics will be, or how they will look for each organization.
  3. Learning needs to be done by each individual and as a group. It is pivotal that we work together in our organizations as well as individually to learn about the issues and understand our biases. 
  4. Be an active learner. Like anything else we start learning, we aren’t going to understand it all right away. Look up words, phrases, and people you haven’t heard of before and ask others how they understand them to hear multiple perspectives. 
  5. Ideas will seem contradictory. We must build our personal and organizational capacity to recognize and allow paradox. It’s usually a good sign that you’re on the right track. 
  6. Conversations around this work will generate emotional responses. Noticing and reflecting on our emotions and responses to what we are learning is key. Be kind to yourself, and be willing to sit in a place of discomfort as much as possible.
  7. Recognize the need to practice listening and humility. As we incorporate equity, diversity, and justice into conservation, we will not be the experts and there are new leaders to follow.

Also essential, we encourage you to continue asking yourselves these questions…

        8.…for starting to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion at your organization.

  • Why is your land trust interested in and/or committed to engaging in equity, diversity, and inclusion?
  • What are your mutually stated and understood agreements about how you best function as a group? 
  • What is your land trust’s definition of diversity and definition of community? How do they relate to the people who live in your land trust’s service region?

        9.  …to consider when the land trust is making decisions.

        (Adapted from material from Wabanaki REACH).

  • Who has the control? Who has power? 
  • What will change through the decision? What are the impacts of  those changes? 
  • Who actually benefits from the decision?
  • Would you do this if you weren’t going to tell anyone about it? 

       10. …to be real and do this hard work better. 

  • What are my reactions?
  • Why am I reacting this way?  
  • What is my reaction telling me? 

Questions for MLTN Land Trusts to begin a process of incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into their work

Conservation work has the goal of being permanent. To build and maintain both an organization and a body of conservation work that are sustainable over time, it is important for land trust work to be truly relevant and more accountable to a broad set of communities. Here are some starter questions that may help your land trust become more relevant and more accountable to more communities in your region.