We believe that the river is inclusive to all beings and that diversity is fundamental to the ecological health of the Missouri River. Our work—connecting people to the Missouri River, themselves, each other, science and the natural world—must be relevant and accountable to the places and communities we serve.
As a predominantly White-led organization, we recognize the legacy of racism, inaccessibility and injustice within the conservation field and understand that we have perpetuated and benefited from racism. It is our responsibility to use our unearned privileges to combat racism and stand with those fighting for justice.
We are committed to supporting authentic and meaningful connections to the Missouri River for all people and we embrace equity, inclusion, and cultural relevance as central to our work.
Our Equity, Inclusion and Cultural Relevance Work Group is a staff and volunteer committee that aims to strengthen our commitment to providing inclusive, equitable, and responsive programs and workplace.
The Work Group designed and implemented a process to create a plan for us to better understand the individual, systemic and institutionalized racism that influence our programs and workplace.
In order to achieve this, the Work Group held listening sessions with staff members, board members, partners and community members to audit our programs and function of our operations, identify short and long-term projects and document them in a plan.
In addition, the Work Group offers support and advises staff members with overall guidance and problem-solving on issues relevant to equity, inclusion and cultural relevance work.
In our plan, we set the goal to establish Missouri River Relief as an inclusive organization that contributes to individuals' wellbeing, that works to connect communities, and promotes more equitable access to the Missouri River.
The plan identifies strategic priorities in four main areas on how to reach our goal. They range from simple tasks to building new systems.
A few examples of action steps from the plan include:
Child Carrier Lending Program with First Chance for Children
When families have meaningful experiences outdoors, their quality of life, health and social wellbeing improve. We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy time outdoors, but we know that outdoor gear for families can be expensive, especially when kids outgrow these items so quickly. This is why we have partnered with First Chance for Children, a non-profit that provides early childhood programs and family resources to foster healthy outcomes for children and families to offer five child carriers for hiking.
River Education Fund
To make Missouri River Relief more equitable and inclusive for students, we fundraise to make the program a cost-effective option for schools. In addition, we have created a "River Education Fund" to provide financial aid support to students and schools that face systemic and financial barriers to accessing programs. Typically, we provide financial aid to 90% of the schools that attend our education programs each year.
Through a strong and long-standing partnership with Job Point, a program that specializes in preparing people to enter the workforce, we host a day-long river clean-up and conservation career program for members from diverse backgrounds. This program is an opportunity to connect Youth Build members to outdoor spaces that are for everybody while combating deep-seated and long-standing stereotypes about who the outdoors and outdoor spaces are for.
Click here for a recording from KBIA called "Missouri River Clean Up Encourages Diversity & Conservation." This recording highlights partners such as Debbie Njai from Black People Who Hike and Christopher Kennedy, the Assistant to the Director-Inclusion and Diversity from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Our land acknowledgment is only the beginning of our practice to increase the visibility of native stories and knowledge in our programs and the mindfulness that we live and work on indigenous land.
As an organization, Missouri River Relief acknowledges that the land and river we gather at today is the ancestral and sacred land and river of the Missouria and Osage People, who stewarded this land and river for generations.
In their own languages, the Missouria and the Osage called themselves the Niutachi, meaning the People of the River’s Mouth, and the Ni-u-kon-ska meaning People of the Middle Waters.
Both tribes’ more well-known names were given by European settlers. The name Missouria, meaning “People of the Big Canoe”, was given because the Niutachi people were often seen navigating hardy 20-50 foot dugout wood canoes, on the Pekitanoui, or “Big Muddy” river they lived along. The state of Missouri and the Missouri River were eventually named to pay homage to the Missouria People.
The name "Osage" comes from the early French traders. It was the French version of the Osage word "Wa-zha-zhe", which means "Children of the Middle Waters." It is a French derivative of the tribe’s name. We acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced removal from this territory, and we recognize that these lands and this river are a part of the Missouria and Osage People; they continue to carry the stories of both nations and their struggle for survival and identity.