Background on Vermont Wilderness School’s Equity, Decolonization, Anti-Racism work
Over the past five years, the Vermont Wilderness School has been in dialogue about decolonization and the role of white/settler-founded outdoor education organizations like ours.
We want to become a more conscious and collaborative partner in decolonization and anti-white supremacy efforts, and we hope that our experience with mentoring people in nature connection is something valuable we can contribute to those efforts.
For twenty years we have been helping people connect with nature. The majority of those people, including our staff and board, have been white, largely upper middle class or affluent. In our programs we have done little to acknowledge that fact, nor have we included in our curriculum much acknowledgement of the ways colonization, slavery, white supremacy and a euro-centric mindset have created the dire current situation.
While we believe that turning toward nature can be a radical act, we see the negative impact of a school like ours maintaining a narrow and privileged focus. Without a grounding in equity, power & privilege awareness, decolonization, and anti-racism, our approach, though well-intentioned, can and does create harm, and can work against the very visions we uphold. Our organizational leaders know this, and it is mirrored by the feedback we are hearing from people of color and Indigenous people.
Currently, two of our specific concerns are the potential for misappropriation of Native practices in our programs and our programs not being sufficiently accessible or inclusive for people of color. There are of course many other aspects to explore as we move toward aligning our programs and practices more in service of decolonization efforts.
Our hope is that there is a way the Vermont Wilderness School can help people from a multitude of cultural backgrounds connect deeply with nature. Can we do that in a way that is not misappropriating or furthering patterns of colonization, but is instead a decolonizing act?
And, can we become part of the solution and work with and in support of Native-led and people of color-led efforts toward sovereignty and liberation?
We believe that we can, and we know we need support and guidance in this effort.
We, the leaders of the organization, have been in a long period of listening and learning, and we now feel we have enough buy-in throughout the organization to make some more significant changes. Until now we have been facilitating the dialogue ourselves, with occasional trainings from people outside the organization. We realize that we can’t do this alone. We’re looking for someone who would like to work with us over a longer period, and who can help us facilitate a change process.
We hope you will consider partnering with us.
If so, please take a look at our more formal request for proposals.
If you’d like to meet or talk on the phone, please give us a call. You are also invited to visit us during the Vermont Art of Mentoring (August 24-31) as a way to get to know us and our approach.
If you, or someone you know, might be interested, we’d love it if you’d put us in touch with them. And feel free to forward this posting to others.
Sam Stegeman, Executive Director
Ingrid Burrows, Board Chair
On behalf of the Vermont Wilderness School