A Justice, Equity and Inclusion Update

Renee Patrick

Author: Ryan Houston  |  Published: June 18, 2021  |  Category: In the News, Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Today, our country is observing Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time. Earlier this spring, we celebrated the confirmation of Secretary Deb Haaland as the first Native American to oversee Department of Interior public lands as a member of the President’s cabinet in its entire 230-year history. Both of these historic moments are poignant reminders that much more must be done to truly achieve equity and inclusion for all communities.

While Oregon’s high desert is a far cry from the President’s cabinet, ONDA remains committed to doing our part to promote justice, equity and inclusion by creating an organization that invites and welcomes all who wish to join us in pursuit of our mission to protect, defend and restore Oregon’s high desert. Our 2021-2024 Strategic Plan lays this out with strategies designed to develop a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community of conservation advocates.

As we nurture this kind of broadly inclusive community committed to desert conservation, we’ll be building a stronger, more effective organization to deliver on the conservation mission we have been dedicated to for more than 30 years.  And we’re confident that political strength, organizational effectiveness and ultimately mission impact will grow as we invite, include, mobilize, amplify, learn from, and leverage the strength of everyone who wishes to speak up for conserving Oregon’s high desert.

We also know that improved equity and inclusion must start from within our organization. We need to be cognizant of our unjust past and present, the limits to how we think, the questions we ask, and the systems and structures we build and support. To this end, we continue working internally to be the truly inclusive organization we seek to be as described in Our Commitment to Justice, Equity and Inclusion.

We’ve been working hard on this for nearly five years. Here’s a brief summary of recent efforts:

  • The ONDA Board of Directors chartered our Justice Committee, composed of staff and board members tasked with overseeing ONDA’s diversity, equity, inclusion and justice work.
  • We developed a strategic action plan covering many aspects of ONDA’s organizational culture. To date, we have:
    • Conducted an internal assessment of ONDA’s culture and practices to identify areas for growth and improvement.
    • Updated staff recruiting and hiring practices and personnel policies to optimize inclusivity and ensure we attract and retain a diverse array of employees.
    • Broadened board recruitment and added new learning opportunities for our board members.
    • Launched a new paid internship program to support early career conservationists in gaining valuable experience.
  • In addition, you might notice a few changes designed to improve inclusivity, including:
    • Land acknowledgements that recognize the past and present-day Indigenous inhabitants across the desert.
    • Signs, public statements and feedback opportunities to welcome people of all races, ages, genders, religions, languages, countries of origin, sexual orientations, sizes, abilities to take part in conservation.
    • Consistent efforts to connect with and more meaningfully involve Black, Indigenous, Tribal and People of Color communities interested in high desert conservation.

What’s next for ONDA

We understand that these are just initial steps in what is a long-term commitment to justice, equity and inclusion. The next items we will undertake include:

  • Assessing barriers to participation in ONDA programs across our conservation, stewardship and community-focused events, and reducing those barriers wherever possible.
  • Broadening our network of partnerships with culturally-specific community groups.
  • Examining, questioning and exploring new ways to ensure ONDA’s programming is culturally relevant and inclusive to all communities who care about desert conservation.

In fall 2021 our Justice Committee will begin a new action planning process and seek board approval for the next iteration of our equity work.

What Our Team is Learning From

Working toward inclusivity, equity and justice is not simple. Fortunately, there are many strong resources from which to learn. Our staff has found continual learning and reflection to be key in creating a more inclusive organizational culture. Here are a few of introductory pieces that we’ve learned from in this process that we’d like to suggest for your own personal reflection on equity, diversity, and inclusion in the conservation movement.




  • Black Faces, White Spaces by Dr. Carolyn Finney
  • The Rise of the American Conservation Movement by Dorceta Taylor
  • An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

And, if you are looking for a deep dive, you may be interested in “Bridges to a new era: A report on the past, present, and potential future of tribal co-management on federal public lands” by Monte Mills and Martin Nie.

As noted, these are a just a few of the very informative and in-depth resources available. We’ll keep sharing these resources to help our community learn together.

As a member of our community, we welcome your feedback and understand that we are stronger as we listen and learn from others. Please feel free to reach out to me, Ryan Houston, Executive Director at rhouston@onda.org with your feedback.