Tag Archives: DEIJ

A portrait photo of Nia Keith leaning on a fence in front of a green field with bird boxes in the background. Location: Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln

In Your Words: Nia Keith

Mass Audubon’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice

A portrait photo of Nia Keith leaning on a fence in front of a green field with bird boxes in the background. Location: Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln
Nia Keith, Mass Audubon VP for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln.

My journey with Mass Audubon has traveled a spiral path. My life and career have taken me to lots of new and exciting opportunities, but I always seem to circle back to Mass Audubon. I first became familiar with the organization in graduate school, looking for a place to conduct research. I was attending Antioch University New England for environmental studies when I stumbled across Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester. I spent many hours over the course of a semester rambling through the forest, cataloging flora, and developing a fondness for the dedicated and friendly staff.

At the time, it never occurred to me that I would become an employee. As luck would have it, Mass Audubon hired me two years later as an environmental educator in the city of Lawrence. I ran programs for children and teens, led schoolyard gardening initiatives, and mentored youth leaders. When the grant cycle that funded my position came to its close, I prepared to move on in my career, thoroughly enriched by my experience with Mass Audubon.

Over the next 10 years, I specialized in science education, becoming a certified middle school science teacher and, eventually, advancing to director of professional development at the Museum of Science in Boston. Although I loved the work I was doing, I felt the need to return to my environmental justice roots. In 2020, I came back to Mass Audubon, but this time as statewide climate change education manager. It’s impossible to address climate change without also addressing the societal injustices at the root of the issue. To this end, I focused my work on climate justice, regularly engaging people in conversations about equity and access to nature. Before too long, I was asked to be a lead contributor to the development of Mass Audubon’s new Action Agenda, focusing on DEIJ initiatives and goals. In July of 2021, I was promoted to vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.  

Nia Keith taking in the view at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown
Nia Keith taking in the view at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown

The thing I love most about Mass Audubon, and why I returned, is the people who engage in our work. From the volunteers to the board to the staff, we are surrounded by dedicated and passionate people. Every day, I get to work alongside some of the most creative and talented professionals in the field. Both my professional and personal growth have been enhanced by the relationships I’ve built with my colleagues.

The current leg of my Mass Audubon journey is a critical one, both for me and for the organization. For years, Mass Audubon has worked to address issues of diversity and inclusion, but this is the first time that this work has been elevated to an executive-level position and given such a prominent role at the heart of all our work. I’m proud of Mass Audubon’s commitment to creating a more just and equitable world for everyone and so excited to be the new VP for DEIJ.

I don’t know where the next turn of the spiral path will take me, but I hope it’s paved with equity and access to nature for all.

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected]  to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

Reflections at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk © Mass Audubon

Reflection and Acknowledgment on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Reflections at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk © Mass Audubon
Reflections at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk

Over the course of Mass Audubon’s 125 years of conservation work in Massachusetts, the organization has grown to be the largest private landowner in the state. As such, it is incumbent upon us to take a thoughtful look at what it means to be a modern-day steward of the land. This is especially pertinent as we observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day and reflect on the history of the original people who stewarded the land for thousands of years before us.

To that end, we acknowledge that Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries are located on the traditional, contemporary, and unceded territories of several Indigenous nations, including the Massachusett, Mohican, Nauset, Nipmuc, Pennacook, Pocomtuc, Wabanaki, and Wampanoag. These lands were taken from the Indigenous people, creating a legacy of trauma that persists to this day.

We acknowledge that Indigenous stewardship of the land we now call Massachusetts kept its ecological communities vibrant, strong, and interconnected for thousands of years, but far from being relics of the past, Indigenous peoples, including the 37,000 individuals who currently reside in Massachusetts, are still at the forefront of environmental protection, ecological stewardship, and climate mitigation.

Mass Audubon deeply values the relationships that we have built with Indigenous people to date, but we also recognize that there is much work still to be done. Acknowledging Indigenous sovereignty and the ongoing trauma of colonialism is only the first step—and an imperfect one at that. Mass Audubon is committed to the work of learning, listening, and evolving so that we may live in “right relationship” (an Indigenous concept rooted in sustainability and respect) with the land and the people who have been its rightful stewards for thousands of years. We know this work will take persistence and time. We know we won’t get everything right on the first try, and we are open to constructive criticism. This message is more than an acknowledgment; it’s an invitation to respectful, open dialogue.

Mass Audubon was founded 125 years ago by two strong women, Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway, who believed in speaking up for what is right, stepping up to make change happen, and initiating uncomfortable conversations—in short, they believed in making “good trouble.” Now we’re challenging ourselves to look at our work with the same critical lens so that we can do what’s right to protect the nature of Massachusetts for ALL people. It’s not only our responsibility to do this work, but our legacy.

We know that words can feel empty unless accompanied by action. Therefore, we are committed to taking the following actions to support Indigenous rights and to work in partnership with Indigenous communities:

  • Recognizing that the field of outdoor education is rife with cultural practices appropriated from Indigenous people and often lacking in authentic Indigenous representation, we commit to evaluating all our education, camp, and visitor programs for culturally appropriative practices; removing activities when necessary; and providing context and history to highlight the integral role Indigenous people play in environmental education.
  • Recognizing the loss of land experienced by Indigenous peoples, we commit to providing greater access to the lands we currently steward by offering free admission to Mass Audubon sanctuaries for all Indigenous peoples in the state.
  • Knowing that Indigenous voices, experiences, and history have too often been ignored or erased, we commit to performing scholarly research into the pre-colonial history of the lands we currently steward, with the goal of sharing this rich history with the world.

We are committed to addressing the greatest threats to nature today—habitat loss, inequitable access to nature, and climate change. The solutions to all these challenges are available to us, but we need everyone to have a seat at the table to succeed. This acknowledgment is not only a call to action; it’s a call to unity. We hope that you will join us.