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Adirondacks for All:

Identity & Environmental Justice in the North Country

Join us for our new virtual program series, “Adirondacks for All: Identity & Environmental Justice in the North Country.” This summer series will examine the intersections between racial and environmental justice. Through engaging discussions with a diverse group of local activists, archaeologists, teachers, land stewards, and more this series will explore 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.

The Adirondacks 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. Hiking a backcountry trail, summiting a 4000-footer, paddling a clear lake, or enjoying some of the Northeast’s remaining old-growth forests, wilderness preservation and resource conservation secure these recreational opportunities for the general public and protect threatened ecosystems from destruction and development. The challenges of climate change make the difficult and sometimes controversial work of forest preservation all the more pressing now and for future generations. 

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. Established in 1892 for “the free use of all the people for their health and pleasure,” the reality has rarely matched this high-minded democratic ideal. 

The “Adirondacks for All” program series was developed by the Adirondack Experience in partnership with the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, The Wild Center, and the Nature Conservancy. This series was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc, and the Leo Cox Beach Foundation. 

Upcoming Events

Towards a More Inclusive Adirondack Wilderness

August 23 | 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

In 1892 the Adirondack Park was established for “the free use of all the people for their health and pleasure.” Unfortunately,...

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The Future of Adirondack Stewardship: Climate, Ecology, and Community

September 6 | 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Throughout history, scholars, writers, artists, and activists have looked beyond the dominant cultural attitudes of their...

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Previous Adirondacks For All Events

Recordings will be available below after each live program.

Indigenous Homelands, Land Rights, and the Politics of Protest

Tuesday, August 9, 2022 | 7:00 pm

As social protest movements swept across the nation in the late 1960s, Indigenous activists embraced direct action as a strategy to address historical injustices that continued to negatively impact their communities. Frustrated by centuries of broken treaties and the steady erosion of their sovereignty, they sought to bring greater visibility and awareness to their cause and reform the relationship between their communities and the federal and state governments. While the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz, led by Mohawk Richard Oakes, and the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee stand as some of the most dramatic examples of Indigenous protest during the “Red Power Movement,” this history also overlaps with that of the Adirondacks. On May 13, 1974, a group of Traditionalist Mohawk families from Kahnawake and Akwesasne sought to reclaim some portion of their original homeland in the Adirondacks region. Rejecting an illegal treaty that ceded nine million acres of Haudenosaunee land to New York State in 1797, the Indigenous activists occupied a former girls camp at Moss Lake, near Old Forge. After three years of negotiations with New York state officials, the Mohawk community accepted six hundred acres of land to establish the community of Ganienkeh (land of the flint). In this program, Jessica Jeanne Shenandoah, a member of the Onondaga Nation, will share her experience of the Moss Lake occupation and join Neil Patterson Jr., a member of the Tuscarora Nation, in a conversation that explores Haudenosaunee efforts to protect their sovereignty, land, and culture.

About the Speakers

Neil Patterson Jr. was born into the White Bear Clan as a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation. He is the Associate Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Neil founded the Tuscarora Environment Program in 1997 through the assistance of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force.

Jeanne Shenandoah, Eel Clan, Onondaga Nation, was a traditional home birth midwife and herbalist for twenty-eight years. A mother and grandmother, she works at the Onondaga Nation Communications Office, and is “involved with spiritual and political activities of my people and following the traditional ways.” A member of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force, she served as a representative of the Onondaga Nation in the Onondaga Lake Environmental Cleanup issue. Jeanne attended The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland as a Haudenosaunee woman representing the spiritual tradition of Indigenous women. Jeanne received The Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Achievement Award in March 2005.

Indigenous Perspectives on Adirondack Park: Knowledge & Practice

Tuesday, July 26, 2022 | 7:00 pm

The Adirondack mountains are part of the traditional homeland of the Mohawk (Kaniekehaka). Lost through theft, illegitimate treaty agreements, and fraudulent land sales after the American Revolution, the Mohawk people have made efforts to reclaim some land, mostly adjacent to the current reservation, and affirm that the mountains are still legally part of the original territory. Nevertheless, Indigenous peoples have worked to maintain their cultural footprint in the region and create space to practice their traditions and lifeways in the mountains, forests, and waters of the Adirondacks. Through communal initiatives and strategic partnerships with museums and historical preservation organizations, conservation nonprofits and land trusts, and educational institutions, Haudenosaunee communities continue to make valuable contributions to the park’s environmental and cultural heritage. In this program, Lorna Mae Thomas, Dave Fadden, and Neil Patterson will discuss their relationship to the Adirondacks and their efforts to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into the preservation of the Adirondack Park, now and for future generations.

About the Speakers

Lorna Maie Thomas is a member of the Bear Clan of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne. Attending the Akwesasne Freedom School, and completing internships on and off the territory she has acquired first hand knowledge of caring for baskets and beadwork. Maie has a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies, and works at the Native North American Traveling College and the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center.

Neil Patterson Jr. is Assistant Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. His work has been to celebrate, restore, and build relationships between indigenous communities and their aboriginal territory. He believes that the pragmatic way in which indigenous people have co-evolved within their landscapes provides the most sublime template for re-imagining and creating sustainable food, material, and energy systems.

David Fadden is an artist, storyteller, and writer with strong ties to both Akwesasne and Onchiota. His subjects range from traditional Haudenosaunee teachings to intimate and inspired portrayals of community members. Fadden was recently invited to reimagine a living wetland exhibit at The Wild Center (Tupper Lake, NY) from a Haudenosaunee perspective. His work can be seen at the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center in Onchiota, a family-run facility founded in 1954 by his grandparents. Today, he continues the work to break down stereotypes and advance accurate understandings of Mohawk and Haudenosaunee culture.

Women in the Forest of History: Renderings of Adirondack Wilderness

Tuesday, July 12, 2022 | 7:00 pm

The voices of women are often silent in the vast history of the Adirondacks, but women have always lived here and considered it their home. Beginning with Indigenous women that inhabited the Adirondacks for countless generations prior to colonization to enslaved and free women that settled the region and ran households, farms, and social movements, women were involved in shaping the Adirondack environment and communities. This session will examine the lives of several women from the 1700s to the 2000s, the natural and social obstacles they faced, and the meanings and inspirations they found in the Adirondack wilderness. Recovering their experiences and hearing their voices enriches the collective landscape.

About the Speakers

Robin Caudell is an award-winning Staff Writer for the Press-Republican newspaper in Plattsburgh, where she has worked since 1990. Robin holds a BS in Journalism, University of Maryland at College Park, and a MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She is a Cave Canem Poet, North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association Trustee and founding member of the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum. A Cold War Veteran and SAC Warrior, Sgt. Caudell was stationed at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, where she was the recipient of the John L. Levitow Award, Non-Commissioned Officer Leadership School. She recently received the 2022 Women of Distinction Military Service Award from NY State Assemblyman Billy Jones. Since living in the Adirondacks, her diverse research projects explore the Underground Railroad and the Black Experience in the Adirondacks.

Sandra Weber is an independent researcher and writer specializing in Adirondack History and Women’s History. For more than 30 years, she has been researching, portraying, and writing about women and their relationships with the Adirondack landscape. Breaking Trail: Remarkable Women of the Adirondacks, which she co-authored with Peggy Lynn in 2004, profiled the lives of 25 women. Several of Sandra’s other books, such as Mount Marcy, convey a “sense of place” by exploring the human and natural history of a specific site in microscopic detail. More recently, Sandra has studied the woman suffrage movement and the importance of commemoration. She wrote The Woman Suffrage Statue (McFarland, 2016) and edited The Champlain Valley Suffrage Centennial Auto Tour (2021).

Incarceration, Wilderness, & The Adirondack Paradox

Tuesday, June 28, 2022 | 7:00 pm

For nearly two centuries, the remote forestlands and high mountain peaks of the Adirondacks have provided opportunities for middle-class recreation, wilderness adventure, and scientific research. At the same time, those natural characteristics led state and federal authorities to look toward the North Country as a convenient location for a network of prisons. Towns and villages across the Adirondacks have since come to rely on prisons as a source of economic development, employment, and state funding. The Park’s recreational infrastructure is equally tied into the region’s prison system, as the poorly paid labor of incarcerated workers supports otherwise unaffordable conservation projects. In this sense, Adirondack wilderness has been shaped by the unfortunate trend towards mass incarceration.

About the Speakers

Dr. Alice Green is the Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice, a civil rights organization she founded in 1985. She has a doctorate in criminal justice and 3 master’s degrees – education, social work, and criminology. The Center provides community education on civil and criminal justice, legal guidance and advocacy, crisis intervention, and community planning and organizing around criminal justice, civil rights and civil liberties issues of particular concern to poor communities and those of color. Dr. Green writes and lectures on racism and criminal justice and often does commentary and analysis for a number of newspapers and television and radio programs.

Clarence Jefferson Hall Jr. is assistant professor in the Department of History at Queensborough Community College, City University of New York, and visiting instructor of Sustainability Studies in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. His research investigates the intersectional histories of environment, race, and incarceration in the U.S. Hall’s first book, A Prison in the Woods: Environment and Incarceration in New York’s North Country, was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2020.

Anna Givens is a senior at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY, majoring in Anthropology and Russian. During her time as a student, she has conducted extensive research on incarceration, including the criminalization of mental health patients at a local hospital and the ways in which federal prison contractors lobby the government. Recently, she completed an honors thesis in anthropology exploring prison siting in the Lake Placid area.

Adirondack Equality: 19th-Century Black Settlement & Environmental Justice

Tuesday, June 14, 2022 | 7:00 pm

In 1846, communities and organizers from the Hudson River Valley mounted the first voting rights protection efforts for African Americans by purchasing land in the Adirondack Mountains and founding a number of free Black hamlets or Black suffrage communities. The movement was the backbone of what would become the voting rights efforts and Underground Railroad. The Black Suffrage Settlement movement and leaders would directly influence radical resistance efforts like John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Because suffrage was tied to land ownership, preserving this history has become an important part of conservation efforts in the Hudson Valley. Aaron Mair will bring these stories and connections to life in this presentation and in calling for a permanent exhibit in the North Country to recover and mark this chapter in New York and American history.

About the Speaker

Aaron Mair is a 30-year wilderness expert and environmental justice pioneer, and advisor to White House’s Commission for Environmental Quality for 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. In this talk, he will discuss the first voting rights protection efforts for African Americans.

Deep History and Belonging in the Adirondacks

Tuesday, May 31, 2022 | 7:00 pm

The Adirondack mountains, lakes, and forests are an international symbol of wilderness within which humans are often considered to be recent intruders. In fact, the story of the human presence on this landscape runs even deeper than the forests themselves. Since the end of the last Ice Age when open tundra still dominated the region, predecessors and ancestors of Haudenosaunee and Abenaki peoples have made this region their home, although many historical accounts falsely claim that indigenous people were only visitors or absent altogether. This program will explore the deep human history of the Adirondacks and consider ways in which recent archeological discoveries have pushed the boundaries of scientific and historical knowledge and helped to shape larger discussions of belonging, ownership, stewardship, and the concept of wilderness itself.

About the Speakers

Curt Stager is a scientist, educator, and author whose research deals with climate change and deep ecological histories of lakes and landscapes around the world.  His work is published in prominent technical journals such as Science as well as periodicals such as National Geographic and The New York Times, and he co-hosts Natural Selections, a weekly science program on North Country Public Radio.  Curt is the author of four books, most recently “Still Waters: The Secret World of Lakes.”  He teaches natural sciences and holds an endowed research chair at Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York.  In 2013, the Carnegie-Case Foundation named him Science Professor of the Year for New York State.

David Fadden was born to John and Eva Fadden in Lake Placid, NY and grew up in the tiny Adirondack Mountain community of Onchiota. In his youth, he grew up surrounded by the wild beauty of the region, by his grandparents Ray and Christine Fadden’s teachings and stories, and by his parents’ creative example and encouragement. Eva Fadden expressed through wood sculpture and John, a retired art teacher, is a painter and prolific illustrator. With strong ties to both Akwesasne and Onchiota, David has established a solid reputation as a painter, but he is also recognized as a storyteller, illustrator, writer, and sculptor. An admirer of the Dutch and Renaissance painters David finds inspiration in the old masters’ eloquent and seemingly effortless use of light. His subjects range from traditional Haudenosaunee teachings to intimate and inspired portrayals of community members. Working primarily in acrylics, he often combines fine brushwork with palette knife applications to produce luminous interpretations of Haudenosaunee youth and elders.

Tim Messner is a father, a wanna-be craftsman, low-level food producer, professor, and archaeologist. His family moved to Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) territory in 2012 when Messner started a job at SUNY Potsdam. Soon after arriving in the North Country, Messner became interested in the deep Indigenous history of the Adirondack uplands. He has spent the last decade exploring the Adirondacks for recreational and scholarly pursuits.

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