American Rivers’ mission is to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature. To achieve our mission, we must cultivate diversity, promote equity and foster inclusion in all aspects of our work.
The beauty of rivers is that they connect people and nature everywhere. That is why “Rivers Connect Us” is more than just a tagline — it is the conviction on which we base everything we do. It is why we seek to address and correct the underlying, systemic inequities around water that affect people and communities. We must develop an internal culture that honors differences and reflects the diversity of the communities we serve. The lived experiences, perspectives, knowledge, innovation and talent that each individual and community brings to our work are critical to our effectiveness ensuring that every community in the country has clean water and a healthy river.
We cannot be complacent about our role or satisfied with business as usual in river conservation. Rather, we must see social change as an imperative. Only then will we begin to address our country’s long history of marginalization of people based on the color of their skin, how much money they have, or where they grew up. Only then will we begin to dismantle the ways in which conservation has fed and perpetuated these inequities. It is important that we at American Rivers thoughtfully and honestly examine our operations, culture and conservation work to address these issues and that we establish a common understanding of and language for these concepts.
Diversity means recognizing the many differences between people. We acknowledge and embrace these differences as we build a culture and workforce that reflects the places we serve.
Equity is the fair treatment of all people based on the particular needs, preferences, challenges and histories of various groups. It requires that we expand our objectives, remove barriers to participation, and redistribute resources and rights for marginalized groups so that everyone can have access to opportunities needed to reach their goals.
Inclusion refers to creating space and opportunity for traditionally excluded groups to participate in processes, activities and decision-making. We ensure authentic participation by sharing power, recognition, resources, and by amplifying the voices of people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental threats and related policies.
We are compelled to engage in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the following reasons:
Everyone deserves to be heard and valued:
- People connect with rivers in myriad ways depending on their culture and history, and therefore, should have the opportunity to care for and advocate for rivers in ways that are meaningful and culturally relevant to them. All communities — particularly those that have been historically marginalized — have the right to advocate for and participate in decision-making around access to clean water and healthy watersheds with outcomes that incorporate their values and needs.
- American Rivers must question the limitations of the cultural perspectives that are manifest in our mission, structure, interpersonal relationships and the conservation work in which we engage.
- If the organization better reflects the contributions and interests of diverse cultural and societal groups, and commits to an inclusive organizational culture, staff of all identities will feel valued and be more innovative in creating solutions to the most pressing threats to rivers and the communities that depend on them.
Diversity is a strength:
- Incorporating the knowledge and perspectives of people of differing races, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic levels contributes to a more robust and powerful movement to protect and restore rivers.
- Engaging and working with Native American, Black, Latinx and other communities of color creates a movement of river advocates and supporters that more closely reflects the diversity of our nation.
- Equitably engaging Native American, Black, Latinx and other communities of color will increase the strength and longevity of American Rivers by building our membership base, increasing influence across our policy and program areas, and improving the health of rivers throughout the nation.
Inequities should be addressed head on, including:
- Native American, Black, Latinx and other people of color are disproportionately affected by lack of access to clean water and healthy rivers, due to historic and ongoing housing and investment discriminatory practices that are ingrained in national institutions, exposing these communities disproportionally to risks associated with a variety of water-related problems including lead contamination in drinking water, combined sewer overflows, flash flooding, and failing or inadequate infrastructure.
- Rivers connect all people and communities, and each of us deserves clean water and healthy rivers, both in cities and rural areas.
To that end, American Rivers has incorporated diversity, equity and inclusion into our Strategic Plan and will weave these values into all aspects of our work, internally and externally. This diversity, equity and inclusion plan is intended to serve as a guide rather than a static document, and it will inevitably and necessarily evolve as our staff, Board and organization continue to learn and grow in this space.