On a spring day in 2018, sun was forecast for my annual climb on Mt. Hood, long known by Native American tribes as Wy’east. I had spent months training on steep trails in the Gorge, thrilled at the prospect of seeing the mighty canyon from a unique perspective. Just before midnight, I met my climbing companions at Timberline Lodge to begin our trek. While I thought I would be up and down the mountain by lunch, an unpredicted thunderstorm rolled in. Mountain climbing teaches persistence and unwavering commitment. I clung to those lessons as gusts of wind jeopardized our stability and whiteout conditions affected visibility.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge is embarking on a journey now that’s like climbing a mountain, one without a clear summit or end point that will give us new perspectives. We’ve embraced the challenge of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our organization.
The Columbia Gorge is home to a diverse group of individuals, tribes, and communities. Our narrative at Friends should reflect the stories of all who live and find inspiration in the Gorge. And we must recognize our responsibility to effectively engage historically marginalized and underrepresented communities in regional conservation efforts.
To guide Friends’ DEI journey, we have formed a steering committee comprised of board members and staff of varying ages, professional levels, genders, and backgrounds. The first phase of our climb focuses on developing a strong foundation through training and education. We’ve been exploring historical and present-day issues of inequality, including tribal treaties in the Gorge, the detainment of Japanese-American citizens in the 1940s, and the environmental racism that contributed to the tragedy of the Vanport flood.
We’re also working to enrich Friends internal culture by integrating a DEI lens into our policies and programs. Additionally, we’ve started building new systems to engage more authentically with the public, hosting two facilitated community listening sessions and hiring our first full-time community engagement position, both last year. As we continue this work, we’ll strive for authentic partnerships with individuals and groups of underserved and marginalized communities in the Gorge.
In the end, my Mt Hood climb took almost five hours longer than anticipated, but the challenges along the way made the climb even more rewarding. Moving forward on Friends’ diversity, equity, and inclusion journey requires organizational and personal growth and the understanding that with each step, we can better serve the Columbia Gorge. On this climb, we will face storms and howling winds; difficult issues and ugly truths about ourselves and the world around us, but we won’t shy away. We will move forward with an unwavering and persistent commitment to moving up the mountain, one step at a time.
Photos of Mika's ascent by Noel Tavan (top) and Marina WIlliams (bottom).