The Sierra Club has apologized for racist statements that its founder, naturalist John Muir, made over 100 years ago as the distinguished environmental group addresses its troubled history that, according to The Guardian, “perpetuated white supremacy.”
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The Sierra Club’s executive director said Wednesday it was “time to take down some of our own monuments,” following suit with the Confederate statues that had been taken down across the US after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The Sierra Club, nation's oldest conservation group, is denouncing the racism of founder John Muir, the 'father of national parks' https://t.co/dDMgHzFXe4
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 22, 2020
Brune said the Sierra Club used to exclude people of color and only really catered to middle and upper-class whites. According to the Associated Press, Brune said the focus on preserving recreational lands once inhabited by Indigenous people who had been driven out by white settlers willfully ignored the plight of minorities who were fighting environmental injustices in their own communities.
Sierra Club calls out the racism of John Muir https://t.co/dcc99XWWt3
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) July 22, 2020
“For all the harms the Sierra Club has caused and continues to cause, to Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color, I am deeply sorry,” Brune wrote.
Brune pledged to hire more diverse staff and invest in environmental and racial justice work.
Legendary snowboarder, filmmaker, and owner of Jone’s Snowboards, Jeremy Jones, also spoke out on Muir’s racist statements. Jones is a known fan of Muir’s writings and even labeled one of his snowboard films, Ode to Muir, in memory of the environmentalist.
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Jones wrote in an Instagram post:
“As I started spending more time in the Sierra I fell in love with the writings of John Muir. They brought a dimension to the Sierra that I was previously not seeing.
They also helped form the concept that nature was a resource worth protecting and played a pivotal role in creating the national parks. Mind you if the white man had left the land to the Natives who lived there sustainably for 1000’s of years this would never had been an issue.
Muir’s words became the backbone to my film Ode to Muir with the hopes of rallying people for the 2018 election to vote for the environment.
However, it turns out Muir had his flaws. It was not until I had finished #odetomuir that I came across a paragraph of his describing the Native’s as “dirty,” “garrulous as jays,” “superstitious,” “lazy”.
This was after reading hundreds of pages of his writings. It was so out of place and so off putting that it made me sick to my stomach. This was a stark contrast to how he wrote about the Alaskan Natives, which was the only other writing of his I read on the topic. It turns out this was not a onetime occurrence.
Hearing the Sierra Club openly admit to his early day racism confirms this.
“..Muir was not immune to the racism peddled by many in the early conservation movement. He made derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes, though his views evolved later in his life.” @sierraclub
These truths hurt but we need to acknowledge our past, especially the dark parts and not be afraid to talk about them.
We also need to except that people evolve and change, ideally in a positive manner as it appears Muir did.
I do not regret making the film but I did realize shortly after it was finished that not acknowledging the true Natives, the Miwoks, was a mistake.”
As Jones eloquently put it, truths like these hurt but we need to collectively acknowledge our past, especially the dark parts of it, and not be afraid to talk about them. This way, we can learn from the past and not be doomed to repeat it.