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National Parks and Environmental Racism Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Lisa Campbell, Canada Jul 27, 2007
Peace & Conflict , Human Rights , Environment   Opinions
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National Parks and Environmental Racism Racism is defined as systematic discrimination against a group of people based on social constructions of race. This type of discrimination often plays into the power and privilege that one has in their larger community, city, municipality, or country as a whole. This means that when it comes to environmental decision making, often communities of colour are left out of the dialog, and thus inherit a myriad of problems, including being subject to toxic waste dumping, resource exploitation, expropriation of lands, and lack of disaster relief infrastructure.

According to Robert Bullard, one leading expert on Environmental Racism, the "environment is everything: where we live, work, play, go to school, as well as the physical and natural world. And so we can't separate the physical environment from the cultural environment. We have to talk about making sure that justice is integrated throughout all of the stuff that we do." The environmental justice narrative solidly rejects the mainstream assumptions that the environment is solely empty green space.

The same forces that effect social injustice are at work when we examine environmental injustice. Often people of colour are left out of environmental discourse. The mainstream environmental movement is largely white, while the communities that face environmental problems are largely people of colour. Justice is often left out of the environmental equation and there are many movements emerging within mainstream environmental groups which advocate racist policies.

The "Not In My Backyard" syndrome experienced with many environmental issues creates systems where those who have the least recognized political voice shoulder the problems of the status quo. It is not those who consume the products who face their environmental impact, but those who live in the communities where they are manufactured, and afterwards discarded. Overwhelmingly, it is communities of colour who are carrying the brunt of environmental destruction, from global warming to over-consumption. Environmental Racism doesn't only inflict environmental destruction, it also limits the range of solutions. The environmental solutions that have traditionally been practiced by the Third World Majority, are often ignored, or appropriated without due credit.

Not only are the communities that people of colour reside in polluted and exploited, they are also expropriated, often in the name of the nation state for so-called environmental motives. Many nations work to dismiss indigenous land rights, and a popular method of doing this is by creating a national park land base, which can later be privatized as the state sees fit. This takes away sovereignty from First Nations peoples, while at the same time dismissing their existence. Often the most pristine land is expropriated, and native peoples are delegated to live in lands which have already been depleted of their resources, and/or contaminated with toxins. Displaced from their traditional relationship with their bioregion, their culture becomes fragmented and this creates an increase in dependence on the state.

Links between Western land conservation and discrimination have a history that dates back to pre-colonialism. The European epistemologies of words like "nature", "park", and "protected areas", have been exported on a global scale, and have thus become normalized in daily discourse. Landscape painting is a good horizon form which to approach the construction of meaning around the idea of “nature” and “natural”.

Often, the people that worked in natural landscapes were excluded on the one hand or, on the other hand, were idealized and exoticised. The exclusion of the lower-classes from landscapes deemed natural dates back to the first parks in England. These parks were not a public affair, but were the elite fenced-off hunting grounds used by the King and the urban aristocracy in England. The people who were allowed to visit these parks, benefited with an increase in social status and power, as do many of the nature-lovers of present day. Going on a Safari in Africa, or climbing a mountain, is certainly one way to impress your friends and show those around you that you have personal motivation and interesting character traits. One could also compare it to having a cottage in the present day situation, one’s own little private nature retreat.

According to recent American telephone polls, white people are much more likely to engage in public parks than people of colour. Being able to retreat from the city is a luxury that few working class people of colour have the privilege to afford. On top of this history of exclusion and colonial discourse, National Parks cater to the status quo by providing history from the winner’s perspective, and excluding intercultural dialog.

Many times the history of those who traditionally lived in the park is idealized and shortened, with little mention of how the land was expropriated. An example of this is at Eugenia Falls in Grey County, Ontario, where a placard talks of the European settlers’ discovery. Really, the land which is labeled a Canadian Park existed before the European settlers arrived, and was known and visited by the First Nations Nawash tribe, and others who frequented the area. There are many examples of this phenomenon on a global scale, with little existing literature to link up this largely systematic problem. By examining National Parks through the frame of Environmental Racism, one can draw obvious links to how this seemingly benign process is in fact greatly linked to colonialism and cultural genocide.

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Lisa Campbell

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"People of the Earth"
Constanza Schmit | Nov 3rd, 2007
Nice Article.. I will continue the tour to the south... In Argentina, there are some National Parks, such as Lanin, that were created in the frame of a Nationalist governement, in order to protect nature resources, still when a culture (the Mapuche community) was being rooting out of the region to create that "Protected Area".. The question is.. Protected from whom? Protected from the aborigin's bad use of the earth?.. ... Just think this: "Mapu - Che" means "People of the Erath".. There are no people more nature-respectuful than aborigins..

Muir vs Pinchot
Robert Margolis | Oct 28th, 2007
Your excellent article reminds me of the articles I have read on the original debates between US environmental pioneers John Muir and Gilford Pinchot. They argued over the purpose of the environmental movement and how wilderness fits in. It is amazing that this debate continues into our times.

صورة جميلة
Adham Tobail | Oct 29th, 2007
اعجبتنى صديقتى الكاتبة الصورة الجميلة التى وضعيتها هنا شكرا لك واتمنى لك النجاح adham_333@hotmail.com ادهم طبيل فلسطين

R Kahendi | May 17th, 2008
Excellent article!

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