In January 2017, shortly before leaving office, President Obama released a presidential memorandum entitled “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Our National Parks, National Forests, and Other Public Lands and Water.” This memorandum responded to a diversity call from the organization The Next 100 Coalition, but more generally to a movement from within and without federal agencies to redress inequities in access, use, and employment. Recent efforts to address diversity in public lands use have ranged from the opening of new historical sites to the emergence of grassroots groups like Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Afro which organize Black and Latinx outdoor trips. Such efforts exist alongside a growing scholarly consideration of race and public lands. Carolyn Finney’s path-breaking book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, for example, examines the construction of contemporary racialized leisure identity and the racialization of spaces in the “great outdoors.”
We envision a symposium focusing on these issues of equity and environmental justice on public lands. We seek to bring together practitioners engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion work throughout the Pacific Northwest with scholars focused on race, environmental justice, and/or indigeneity as they relate to public lands. Our speakers position indigenous perspectives as central to any conversation about environmental justice and public lands. Given recent threats to defund public lands coming from the federal government, and the vexed nature of public land use (with distinct racial overtones) made clear by the Malheur conflict, we feel that this is a crucial moment to revisit the meaning of public lands for all Oregonians. Key questions we will pursue include: What does it look like to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in national parks, national forests, and other public lands and water? What does it mean to manage public lands for environmental justice? What are indigenous perspectives on public land management? What might a historical perspective add to our understanding?