Virtual symposium continues dialogues about racial and environmental justice

The Adirondack Experience announced that it will present a three-part symposium in November as part of its Adirondacks for All: Identity & Environmental Justice in the North Country programmatic initiative.

Adirondacks for All launched in June with eight virtual events that explored experiences of inequity and oppression in the Adirondacks and the ways in which those realities connect with issues of preservation, pollution, and access to land, water and nature more broadly.

The initiative is organized by Erik Reardon, a professor and scholar whose work has focused on environmental history and Native American histories, in collaboration with ADKX leadership and in partnership with Adirondack Diversity Initiative, The Wild Center and the Nature Conservancy. The series featured a wide range of speakers with varying backgrounds, perspectives and expertise, and is part of ADKX’s broader commitment to engage new voices, ideas and communities with the museum and the region.

The Adirondacks for All symposium builds on the prior discussions featured in the series and provides further opportunity for public engagement with critical issues that have relevance well beyond the Adirondacks. The symposium, which will be presented virtually, will kick off with a roundtable focused on reframing Adirondack history on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., featuring Darren Bonaparte, a cultural historian from the Akwesasne First Nation; Amy Godine, an independent scholar who has been writing and lecturing about Adirondack social history since 1989 and Paul A. Miller, an independent writer, photographer and filmmaker, who recently completed a documentary, titled “Searching for Timbuctoo,” about a little-known African-American settlement in the Adirondacks.

The symposium will then proceed on Nov. 2 and Nov. 4, with roundtable discussions scheduled in the evenings, at 7 p.m. Topics for these sessions focus on approaches to making the Adirondacks more accessible and welcoming to a wider, more diverse populace, as well as policies that will ensure the ongoing preservation of the Adirondacks. The virtual symposium is free to the public but requires advance registration on the ADKX website at


The Adirondacks, established in 1892, have long been celebrated as one of the nation’s signature conservation achievements. A unique patchwork of residential hamlets and forest preserve, the park’s extensive network of woods, waters and high peaks have inspired generations of residents and visitors seeking their own “Forever Wild” experience. And yet, beneath the surface, and inside the park’s blue line, legacies of dispossession, systemic racism and inequality contribute to the unfortunate sense that the Adirondacks belong to some, but not others.

At the same time, the challenges of climate change and environmental destruction have increased the urgency to maintain and enhance the region’s historic commitments to conservation and preservation. These converging realities have made it essential to confront the systems and structures that have prevented the Adirondacks from living up to the democratic ideal on which they were established: for “the free use of all the people for their health and pleasure.”

Reframing Adirondack History with Darren Bonaparte, Amy Godine and Paul A. Miller

Historical accounts of the Adirondacks have long privileged Euro-American perspectives and settlement. Over the past several decades, individuals and organizations across the Adirondacks have increasingly challenged the cultural, social and political assumptions at the foundation of these kinds of Euro-centric narratives.

Through their cultural education initiatives, scholarship, writing and filmmaking, the three featured panelists on Nov. 1 — Darren Bonaparte, Amy Godine and Paul A. Miller — have worked to re-center the experiences of underrepresented people who have acted as forces for social, political and cultural change in the North Country and beyond. To tell a more complete history of the Adirondacks, the narratives must embrace the experiences, perspectives and contributions of the First People of this region, African-Americans, immigrants and Adirondackers without political visibility or power.

Wilderness for All with Benita Law-Diao, Stephanie Morningstar and Annie Cree

Addressing the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of a more diverse and inclusive Adirondack Park is essential to long-term success and sustainability. There is an increasing recognition that a host of cultural, geographic and economic barriers continue to undercut the Park’s democratic commitment to “the free use of all the people for their health and pleasure.”

The panelists featured in this Nov. 2 roundtable discussion have spent considerable time and energy bridging the access and equity gap, connecting Black and Indigenous youth, among others, with an environmental and cultural heritage that should transcend cultural, racial and economic boundaries. They will share their personal journeys with the Adirondacks and discuss opportunities to move forward in more positive directions.

Benita Law-Diao is a New York state licensed public health nutritionist and dietitian, the Outdoor Afro Leader for Albany and Upstate New York and a national board member of Hostelling International USA, who has led efforts to encourage more people of color to participate in travel and recreation.

Annie Cree is a Mohawk of Akwesasne and part of the Bear Clan, who serves as the director of outdoor programming for Iakwa’shatste youth fitness and youth coach and team trainer to a few local minor sports teams.

Stephanie Morningstar is Mohawk, Oneida and of mixed European descent, who serves as the executive director of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, an organization dedicated to advancing land access for BIPOC land stewards of color.

Using Policy and Preservation to Foster an Adirondacks for All

During this final roundtable discussion on Nov. 4 in the “Adirondacks for All” week-long symposium, Aaron Mair will engage state representatives and Adirondack stakeholders in a conversation that touches on the past, present and future of the Adirondacks.

Mair is currently leading the Adirondack Council’s “Forever Adirondacks” campaign and formerly served as the first African-American president of the Sierra Club. Mair’s passion for stewardship, preservation, and environmental justice has put him at the center of efforts to memorialize the region’s African-American history and establish the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, which will connect New York City youth with educational programs and green job training based in the Adirondacks.

Mair will address these, and other projects designed to protect Adirondacks land and water while encouraging diversity, equity and economic opportunity.

Aaron Mair is a 30-year wilderness expert, environmental justice pioneer and advisor to the White House’s Commission for Environmental Quality for both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Mair was the first African-American president of the Sierra Club and is well-known for his work in environmental justice.

Complete biographies for the panelists can be found at theadkx.org.


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