We started watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the National Parks and of course ran right into John Muir, the person who did more than anyone else to start the movement towards the creation of “our best idea,” the national parks; was the founder of the Sierra Club; and, it turns out, was a bigoted racist. Very interesting to see how directly and honestly the contemporary custodians deal with the racist foundations of their organization.
‘ The whiteness and privilege of our early membership fed into a very dangerous idea — one that’s still circulating today. It’s the idea that exploring, enjoying, and protecting the outdoors can be separated from human affairs. Such willful ignorance is what allows some people to shut their eyes to the reality that the wild places we love are also the ancestral homelands of Native peoples, forced off their lands in the decades or centuries before they became national parks. It allows them to overlook, too, the fact that only people insulated from systemic racism and brutality can afford to focus solely on preserving wilderness. Black communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color continue to endure the traumatic burden of fighting for their right to a healthy environment while simultaneously fighting for freedom from discrimination and police violence.
The persistence of this misguided idea is part of the reason why we still get comments from our own members telling us to “stay in our lane,” and stop talking about issues of race, equity, and privilege. But as writer Julian Brave NoiseCat says, “The environment is no longer a white sanctuary. The messy business of society, power, and race is everywhere and intertwined.” ‘