MLTN Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Episode 2

Gauging by the signs we’re seeing, a large percentage of Maine land trusts are motivated and ready to take another step on the path toward diversity, equity, and inclusion at their organization. So what’s next? The following questions taken from our survey fielded earlier in 2021, and a compilation of resources, may be a jumping off point.

The MLTN diversity, equity, and inclusion work group put together and sent out a survey in March of 2021 through the Maine Land Trust Network to learn, from the land conservation groups around Maine, what questions were being asked on this topic. Below is a summary of questions (many trusts were asking the same questions) taken directly from the survey.  Our responses to the questions are designed to help each trust think through the issue and craft their own answer or response, based on that trust’s mission and communities or service area.  Asking these questions of a board and or staff can be done in a long or short exercise, and should help each trust do and be better at building and broadening community support, interest and impact of conservation work. We hope this is helpful!

  1. From the MLTN Survey: “We would like to get internal representation of Indigenous People: board, committees, etc.”

As a Board and/or staff, consider first:

    • What about your organization’s Board and your processes would or would not feel safe and respectful to a person of a _____________ different from yours? (e.g. color, gender identity, economic situation, sexual orientation, physical ability). For example, common processes such as following Robert’s Rules are not used by many communities. 
    • How is your organizations’ work relevant enough, or not, to ___________ community of people for a member of them to want to be involved? Consider the term(s): Organizational culture. Tokenism. [White] Dominant Culture. Unconscious Bias. 
  1. From the MLTN Survey: “I think that understanding diversity and demographics in Maine broadly and by region would be helpful, and understanding how well or poorly we as land trusts match up with the state picture, in terms of employment, board representation, and member/ non-member engagement.”

As a local or regional land trust, each of us is integrated into the community of a particular service region, rather than state-wide. Even state-wide organizations tailor their work to particular communities. As a Board and/or staff, consider first:

    • What is your organization’s commitment to community engagement?
    • How well does your organization represent your land trust’s service region communities? Who lives where you are? Which communities of people in your land trusts’ service area are you not yet listening or talking to? 
    • What community is your community missing? In ‘community conservation’ or ‘community engagement’, who are you not engaging because they aren’t there? 
  1. From the MLTN survey: “I have a pretty good idea that we (land trusts) are overwhelmingly white, even more so than our overwhelmingly white state.”

If one wants to focus exclusively on race, Maine has diversity that includes the Wabanaki nations who have been here for thousands of years, and an increasing number and breadth of skilled immigrants and refugees from around the world. Importantly as well is that ‘diversity’ speaks to a great number of facets of people and communities. This includes economic circumstances, gender identity, sexual orientation, family background, physical and mental ability, etc. 

As a board and/or staff, consider first:

    • How can our land trust effectively engage with and benefit more community members in our service region? Consider question #2 above. 

For further learning, consider the history behind why Maine is currently majority white. 

  1. From the MLTN Survey: “Frankly I think we could use contacts in schools that may be outside our service areas that have diverse student populations so that we could make connections and consider field trips from those schools to our conserved lands.”

As a Board and/or staff, consider first:

    • What real benefits to which community members is your land trust offering with field trips? Are these/how are these students interacting with their local land trusts already? Do the students want to go to your conserved lands? Why? 

For further reflection, see Essentials for Learning and consider Questions 8, 9, and 10.

For any field trip design and preparation, consider: What barriers may schools or families face? Is paying for their transportation in your budget? Are you providing meals? What accessibility and safety considerations are you making? 

  1. From the MLTN Survey: “We’d like a process that includes some sort of certification and a better understanding of how to diversify our board.”

As a Board and/or staff, consider first:

    • Who benefits from a land trust receiving a certification?
    • How else does your organization’s actions (either internal or public facing) demonstrate your commitment to and work in equity and inclusion? 

In considering Board make-up, see Question 1 above. 

  1. From the MLTN Survey: “Ideas for how to approach this topic [DEI work] in a time efficient way. What not to do.”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is founded on building genuine relationships. Land trusts excel at building relationships with landowners and community members, knowing how critical this is to accomplish conservation goals. 

As a Board and/or staff, consider first:

    • How can diversity, equity, and inclusion be incorporated into our organization’s DNA? With whom do you want to build relationships? What are their values? What are their priorities? Are you ready to put your agenda aside to help meet those? 
  1. From the MLTN Survey: “Sample Wabanaki land acknowledgment language may be useful.”

Land acknowledgements should be unique, there is no template. 

As a Board and/or staff, consider first:

    • What are your goals in issuing a land acknowledgement? Have you done the work to understand and stand behind the acknowledgement and the power of the words? 

For further learning, read Sherri Mitchell’s article and visit First Light’s resources page on acknowledgements, which includes a link to this article from the Native Governance Center

A Selection of Resources to Help Land Trusts with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

If your land trust is already working on diversity, equity, and inclusion, or would like to start, you’re not alone. Over the past few years, interest in this area has grown by leaps and bounds and there are tons of resources available, many of them at no cost. Here we’ve described a number of resources that land trusts may find helpful, but this list is by no means complete. We encourage you to do your own research, and when you find something that is meaningful for you and your organization, we hope you’ll share it with this community.

Resources to Help Land Trusts with DEI 10-20-21  (PDF)

This list of resources was compiled by the MLTN Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work Group as part of the process to support the land trust community in Maine. It represents a master list of many different sources of learning and action and we encourage you to take your time to consider which is right for you.