11 Questions Answered About Trail Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Q&A from the American Trails webinar for JEDI with the purpose of creating a map that can help you identify priorities for your organization and areas where you need more support.


Following our webinars we allow written question submissions which are then fully answered by the presenters. Below you can find the full Q&A from this session, and you can download the full recording at this link.

Nikki asks: Inclusion is a critical part in moving toward equitable engagement. Colonization is the core of the issue on public lands today and remains a contentious topic for many. While most can recognize that public lands were in fact taken and settled, in some ways colonization is still happening in non-dominant identity communities.

I wonder about how to deal with individuals and/or organizations who are interested in equity work but are actively, and unapologetically, colonizing individuals and cultures. I'm thinking specifically about religious organizations that go on missions to convert people. How can you bridge the gap to share insight on why and how that process is damaging and is also happening in less obvious ways?

Religious ideology and worldview are such core tenants of who people are and how they act. I see great opportunity to work with groups who are dedicated to helping others, though I wish they would allow for more diverse perspectives without colonizing ideologies.

Avarna response: Yes, learning about histories of colonialism and current colonialism is important, but to motivate people who are resistant to JEDI to learn, you have to specifically connect the dots for them on why JED is important (this was discussed in the first webinar). Once they’re bought in, then they can start learning about how they can unwittingly be complicit in the systems of oppression that continue to exclude and marginalize folks (including colonialism). It can be helpful to find other religious groups doing work that is in support of JEDI as an example of how religion can be a strong part of your JEDI work. Mennonites have had a long history of engaging in justice work and Creation Justice Ministries work on JEDI initiatives within the environmental field through a Christian lens.

Mike Passo asks: In developing programs at conferences, is it better to seek diverse presenters across the board (i.e. near 100% of underserved populations), or is it better to try and create a population of presenter that more accurately reflects the population of the US?

Avarna response: We always urge diversity on panels, which doesn’t mean the entire panel is comprised of people with marginalized identities. Having different identities and perspectives on a panel can contribute to a richer conversation. Your panelist should be equipped in speaking to issues of JEDI from multiple perspectives, even if the panel is not aimed to address JEDI specifically.

I would be curious what your take is on how to consider that so many of these issues and underserved or disadvantaged communities exist entirely on spectrum. Disability, ethnicity, social status, even gender. Exist on a spectrum, and the act of labeling can become very difficult. Any suggestions of how to deal with all of the grey areas caused by individuals falling on spectrums?

Avarna response: We know that people experience barriers differently based on their identities, so we always try to focus on the barrier versus the person. Because oppression is intersectional, i.e., peoples’ experiences are amplified if they hold more than one marginalized identity, we cannot apply a single person’s story to an entire community. But we can address the barriers that impact them.

Inviting diverse participation in my programs seem key, but I may know all of the communities to invite. Any ideas on how to try to ensure diverse invitations to participation.

David Willman asks: How do you know feedback is genuine? Are we to presume all feedback is valid?

Avarna response: We’re assuming feedback is coming with positive intent. If feedback addresses your behavior/actions and how they impact a person, feedback is always valid. If the feedback is just attacking character or intent, then it’s not as helpful. We also have to remember that the feedback we receive won’t be perfect; it’s our job to figure out what parts of the feedback we can really learn from and what parts may not make sense for us.

Sky Tallman states: I think in terms to Latinx are awkward, especially in a Spanish speaking context. The word can’t really be pronounced and doesn’t fit into Spanish grammar. The word can’t meaningfully be integrated into Spanish sentence without using articles. While I can appreciate the intention of non-Spanish speakers in using the term. It feels like a term that may, incidentally distance the speakers from the community being spoken about.

Avarna response: A few points we wanted to make here:

  • We are taking our cue from young Latinx activists and following their lead. We understand that not all people who speak Spanish want to use Latinx to describe a group, though we tend to follow the lead of those who experience the most marginalization.
  • If you are wanting to use a photo, image, or tell the story of a person with marginalized identities, make sure you’re also doing the JEDI work to back it up so it doesn’t feel like window dressing.
  • Being transparent with the storyteller or the person whose image your capturing about your company or organization wanting to increase representation and why.
  • If the person is telling a story:
    • Ensure the person is telling their own story in their own words and perspectives (don’t tell the story for them)
  • Don’t ask the person to speak for an entire community or identity
  • Provide the person with editorial privileges on the final work product.
  • Think critically about what constitutes a “compelling story” to ensure your biases don’t creep in.
  • Support the person beyond soliciting the story so that the relationship is not just transactional.
  • Seek a diversity of stories within a particular community. For example, tell stories not only about a Latinx farmer in the supply chain or Latinx distribution worker, but also about Latinx athletes or Latinx activists.
  • Don’t reinforce stereotypes with your story or imagery. For example, before adding details about a person of color living in poverty or in a particular economically depressed neighborhood, ask “in service of what am I embellishing this story with these particular details?”
  • If you produce a film of the person’s story, give them production credit.
  • There is an expectation that language should work perfectly, but it just doesn’t. Sure there are issues with Latinx, but there are issues with Latino/a as well. The reality is our language is always imperfect and always evolving. Perhaps there will be a better term (like Latine) in the future that can be better applied across Spanish, but for now, Latinx allows non-binary people to be seen.
  • Here is a compelling argument for the use of Latinx by two Latinx people: http://www.latinorebels.com/2015/12/05/the-case-for-latinx-why-intersectionality-is-not-a-choice/

We just want to emphasize no community is a monolith and there continue to be debates within the Latinx community about the use of the term (primarily it has been a generational debate). But some of the assertions in this article are just plain wrong. Anecdotally, we have several friends and colleagues of Latinx descent (some multigenerational and some first generation or immigrants) who use the "x" to make many Spanish words gender neutral: like "amgixs."

It'll never be perfect, but we can always try to be better.

Francis asks: I identify as Filipinx and hence BIPOC, so I hope to make it to the next PGM ONE Summit in Chicago. How can our white allies and accomplices contribute to the conference though not being able to attend?

Avarna response: Supporting your attendance (financially) is one clear way white folks can contribute. You can find more information on www.pgmone.org on the FAQs page, or email for information on how white allies/accomplices can contribute.

From Ava: It’s also important for white folks to understand that supporting PGM ONE is great, but also one very small slice of doing racial justice work. If people can’t contribute to PGM ONE specifically, that’s ok. What’s more important is a long term commitment to racial justice, which can happen in many ways. One thing that could happen for white folks is that while their BIPOC colleagues are at PGM ONE, white colleagues could intentionally carve out some time to read and discuss important articles/books/videos about racial justice.

Chelsea Conlin asks: Do you have recommendations for broaching JEDI topics with members to your organization that will likely feel threatened by them?

Avarna response: We approach JEDI as an opportunity (not a threat). We sometimes start by talking about implicit bias because we all have it and it’s not limited to one identity (we have race bias, but also have biases based on body size, age, class, education, gender, sexual orientation, and more). This can be disarming. Also talking about the more “business case” whys that we presented in the last webinar can help bring people along.

Rose Clements asks: What strategies would you suggest to engage our partners (NPS, Forest Service, etc) to be held accountable for JEDI?

Avarna response: We have supported organizations in adding JEDI values language to partnership agreements (including cooperative agreements) to ensure agency personnel involved in projects are bought into JEDI and behave inclusively (or attend trainings on cultural competency and implicit bias). We have also created codes of conduct, expectations, and partnership dissolution policies that hinge on partners supporting JEDI. Finally, some agencies have their own JEDI statements (sometimes called something different), but you can find those and build your cooperative agreement from the commitments that they’ve already made internally.

How can we create aspirational marketing without tokenizing folks?

Avarna response: Here are some tips to avoid tokenism:

Pamela Bianchi asks: How do you acknowledge conflicting feedback?

Avarna response: Be transparent that you have received conflicting feedback (to both feedback givers), and have a clear process to navigate how you’re going to integrate conflicting feedback.

Jessica Savage asks: You mentioned a lot of examples of marginalized flox, and I just wanted to ask if you would also include people of size, though you may have left out others, so I suppose it is not 100% necessary, but just wanted to throw that out there as feedback.

Avarna response: Yes, sizeism is a system of oppression that manifests in many ways in the trails space, from access to gear to hiker conduct. We always try to address sizeism but if we didn’t our apologies.

Deborah Jensen asks: Can you elaborate on working with tribes? In our organization we reach out for input via our tribal liaison in formal manner but rarely hear back. This leaves an important gap in our information and feedback.

Avarna response: There is no one-size fits all solution to tribal engagement. We have curated a number of resources on tribal engagement on this Google Drive folder: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1KUYgSdyhCoRlXm2z8Sl2pzN5sF4t96gR

Kyle Pows White has authored a few resources on tribal engagement. Bottom line is that the “best practices” for engagement have to be informed by the tribes with whom you’re working. If your tribal liaison isn’t responding, ask yourself what is keeping them from doing so (is it the way you’re communicating with them? Is it that the liaison doesn’t feel this partnership is reciprocal and therefore doesn’t feel obligated to respond?) Figure out what you can do to better support tribal sovereignty and tribal agendas and goals. And build relationships.

Ingrid Gatin asks: How would you address a patriarchal or paternalistic structure in your organization?

Avarna response: It is difficult to upend an organizational chart to make the dominant hierarchical organizational structure (leadership, directors, managers, program staff, etc.) more flat. I’d look into resources on power sharing (adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy has case studies of flat hierarchies) and cross-functional organizational structures such as a holocracy. Here are some basic tenets of power sharing, which is one theory of org management that gets away from patriarchal structures: https://www.fastcompany.com/3004867/why-sharing-power-work-very-best-way-build-it