Portland Trails' land justice responsibility
Land has been used as a tool of dominance over, and of harm to, many people. As the “owner” and caretaker of land in Greater Portland, we at Portland Trails have been given unearned power by an unjust system of which we are a part. We recognize that with this power comes responsibility.
As people who staff and steward this land-holding organization, we bear a responsibility to honor the First People who lived here for millennia. As a land-holding organization, we bear a responsibility to earn the trust of, and build reciprocal relationship with, the Wabanaki people who still live here in our region, whose ancestors once walked the land we now hold and steward. And, we bear a responsibility to honor and be in right relationship with the land itself. Here, we see an intersection with—and own— our responsibility to play an active role in making right the land-based injustice past and present done to Black and Brown community members through redlining, racial mortgage discrimination, the taking of land for “urban renewal”. The legacy of these injustices are patterns of inequity we can still see today.
What could “making our relationships right” in terms of our relationship with Indigenous peoples past and present? How do we reconcile the historical land-based injustices that marginalized, excluded, and erased Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other People of Color within the context of our work at Portland Trails?
Using our core values as our guide, we believe “making it right” at this moment looks like us wrestling with the concepts of access and belonging in the here and now. While the trails and the land we steward are open to all community members by our mission, we have come to recognize that not everyone in our community feels safe, comfortable, or welcome on Portland Trails. We need to ask ourselves: is that what legitimate access and openness looks and feels like? We say no.
We at Portland Trails own our responsibility to engage with people all across the community to better understand the reasons why some people don’t feel welcome on our trails. We embrace the opportunity to collaborate with all kinds of people to co-create programs and messaging that is deeply informed by, and responsive to, those who have felt uncomfortable, unsafe, or unwelcome on Portland Trails.
We are pursuing this because our values inform our belief that all people who want to can use Portland Trails as a portal to connecting with the land and all things living, with nature, with recreation, with carbon-free transportation, and with family and friends. We have barriers to remove—physical barriers, and barriers in our hearts and minds. There are many questions we will continue to wrestle with, and work to find answers to, in coming months and years. Trails remain an opportunity for human beings to be in relationship with each other and the earth, and to co-create local solutions to the challenges we face as a community, as a region, and as humanity.