Portraits of Allyship: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
When ethnically and racially diverse leaders thought to write outdoor equity into the law, Senator Heinrich didn’t hesitate to get behind them
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As a woman of color, I’ve had maybe one or two opportunities to work in a truly diverse team that wasn’t led by a white person in power. Then, at the end of 2020, I was invited to join the Outdoor Fund for Underrepresented Tribal, Urban, and Rural Equity (Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E.) as a founding member. It’s an initiative that brings together diverse leaders working to write into the law equitable access to the outdoors for our youth.
As members of the Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E., “we are trying to undertake a whole new legislative process that hasn’t been done before,” said founding member and conservationist Gabe Vasquez. “We’re not being asked to do this. We’re not being paid to do this by a funder. We’re trying to make a change at the national level and Senator Heinrich and his team help make this a reality by following and empowering our leadership.”
From the early days of this initiative, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) has dedicated his resources to support its development. “The livelihoods of people of color have long been rooted in the outdoors, but they haven’t always had equitable access to public lands,” said Heinrich. “In New Mexico, outdoor equity advocates and community leaders led the way in breaking down some of these barriers with the creation of the first-of-its-kind Outdoor Equity Fund. But there is more work to do…to ensure we are supporting the next generation of stewards of our air, land, water, and wildlife. Outdoor opportunities in our parks and public lands should be accessible to all Americans regardless of wealth, where you grow up, or the color of your skin.”
For Teresa Martinez, co-founder of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and fellow founding member of Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E., allyship is not just inviting historically underrepresented voices to the table. Instead, it’s about empowering them to create new tables outside of the ones which have failed them in the past. “How do we sit in the space of pain and trauma and learn how to be uncomfortable together?” Martinez said. “How do we work to leverage each other’s strengths to elevate the voices that haven’t been there to enrich and further diversify the dialogue?” The creation of Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E Initiative is precisely that: a new table composed of people who have been historically excluded from the legislative process.
Senator Heinrich’s team is guiding Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E. through the unknown. “I’ve never written legislation. I don’t understand that language, and by design, it is created to uphold systemic power,” admitted Martinez. “What’s been really cool about Heinrich’s team is that they’re navigating with us the systemic roots of legislative writing while helping us keep the intention and meaning of what we’re trying to convey.” Take Maya Herman, legislative assistant to the Senator, who has sat through countless meetings taking up only the space that she needs to help the initiative. She has shown an uncanny ability to listen to each diverse perspective in the room and translate all the priorities and concerns into the legislative language of Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E. “It all starts with [Heinrich’s] commitment. And it shows up in the support we get from his staff,” said Vasquez.