Last summer, we sent a letter entitled #InDefenseOfBlackLives in response to the murder of George Floyd. It was the first time our organization had ever spoken out explicitly against racism and systemic injustice, and is part of our journey of exploring, articulating, and acting on our commitment to equity. We are definitely not experts and so we will revise and repair when we get it wrong from time to time, but as we close out this summer season and move into a new school year, we are writing again to share what we’re learning and questioning as we explore our edges.
For me, Two Coyotes is about much more than a ‘nature class’. It is a safe place where our children can not only climb trees and wallow in the mud, but also grow, problem solve, be themselves and be accepted without prejudice. Racial injustice is present in society on so many levels, and I personally welcome any opportunity to address this, especially with children. My hope is that they will turn into adults who are more aware and equipped to put an end to this. We cannot pretend that any school is separate from these issues, and to not address them is to be complicit. I think we are all learning how to navigate this situation, and any help is very much appreciated.Nicky, Parent
One of the questions we received in response to last summer’s letter asked, What does running a wilderness school have to do with racial injustice and white supremacy culture? We wanted to share our thoughts in response to this question, as well as responses from other members of our community. We look to the following guiding principles in considering how equity intersects with our mission:
Our work is all about connection: connection to nature, connection to others, connection to self. We believe that connection must be relational rather than transactional, regenerative rather than extractive. We run our nature connection programs on the unceded and traditional homelands of the Pootatuck (a subset of the Paugussett Nation, in Newtown), Tunxis and Agawam (in Granby), and Hammonasset (in Killingworth) peoples. Many of the skills that we teach and the ways we mentor come from or are inspired by indigenous teachers and cultures. We benefit from this knowledge and access to land while Native peoples are still resisting the theft of their land and attempts to erase their culture and ways of life.
Two Coyotes has always been about more than making fire and playing games — it’s about how we show up in community and how we treat each other. White supremacy is deeply embedded in our culture (including in this community) and it is the responsibility of all who raise kids to prepare them to stand up against racism and oppression in this world. Nature connection showed me how rivers do not tip toe around what is hard; they carve pathways into mountains and bedrock. Nature is calling us to do the same.Karolina, Two Coyotes mentor
We are a mentoring organization focused on raising the next generation as whole, healthy humans. We see, as you have, the areas where our mainstream education system has failed to fully serve all children, and we seek to fill some of those gaps with our programming. In particular, our learning environment models for kids how to do better and do differently in how they treat each other and work through conflict, and we are conscious about not replicating the same gaps in how we ourselves were raised or educated.
As children grow, their awareness of how other children and people are treated also grows. Any group that purports to lead and guide children toward respect, action, and education in this country must make a decision and then a commitment to equity. The reality of systemic racism and denial of that reality is very strong now; therefore, teaching equity through curriculum and nonprofit structure is a social responsibility.Shelley, Grandparent & Friend
Together, we are building a community where each person can show up as their authentic self. In order to create that environment, each person’s identity is welcomed, included, and reflected in our programs and our community. This includes race, gender, sexual orientation, ancestry, age and ability, among other identifiers. Consciously seeing and celebrating each other in all of our differences and diversity is how we can build a culture that is more united than divided. In addition, we know that equity means each person gets what they need to thrive (e.g. those with “less” get more) and we strive to make sure all of our community members are thriving.
Two Coyotes is about reawakening kids and families to a connected way of being in the world. That is why kids grow so much in our programs. This is the way people were meant to live. Really, for 98% of our time as a species on the planet, we lived this way. Today our modern mindset and society has and is creating mass extinction, racial inequity and many other atrocities.
How can we become healthy again as a culture? How can we make a meaningful impact in the health of our society and for the planet? For many years Two Coyotes has not addressed racism or white supremacy, but how could we fulfill our mission to help raise healthy children and support strong families without addressing these issues? We must prepare our youth to step into a world that is both beautiful and hard to look at. A world that requires us to be aware and responsible in new ways.
We are all being called to step into being part of a tidal shift in our culture. Do we continue on with business as usual or do we return to a right relationship with people, ourselves and the planet?Justin, Two Coyotes mentor and former Executive Director
We cannot achieve our mission without acknowledging historic harm, seeking to heal and repair ruptured relationships between people, the land, and ourselves, and moving forward together in solidarity toward a more equitable and regenerative future. We do this work not from a place of guilt, shame, or fragility, but in humility, solidarity, resilience, and above all, knowing that we can do better. We know we must be intentional and mindful about undoing unintentional harm.
This is what our commitment currently looks like:
– We acknowledge the original caretakers of the land at the beginning of our programs, meetings, and events.
– We’ve made donations in response to calls for support by the Golden Hill Paugussett and and will be making donations to other indigenous nations on whose land we operate programs.
– We are providing training and coaching to staff around equity and harm reduction. Our board is also participating in a training series.
– We’ve self-funded programs for new partners in Waterbury, Hartford, and Bridgeport so that we can learn how to adapt our program model to be more culturally responsive for kids in urban environments.
– We’ve begun working with the nonprofit CEIO (Co-creating Effective and Inclusive Organizations) under their KALE (Keeping Accountable to Liberation and Equity) initiative. We are hosting an organizational retreat with them in September to initiate this partnership.
And there is so much more work to be done. There is a lot that we don’t do well yet, or don’t understand how to embody in our mission. In particular, we are grappling with the questions:
– What are some of the ways that we operate that unintentionally create barriers for new, underrepresented people to join our staff, our programs, and/or our community?
– How does equity intersect with our programs, at the day-to-day level?
– What “skills” should our students graduate with and bring into the world?
We are grateful for your interest and curiosity around this work. We will continue to share updates on our progress from time to time with our community, and we welcome your questions or recommended resources for continued learning and growth in this area.
With love & solidarity,
Two Coyotes Wilderness School’s Equity Committee