The exclusion of Indigenous people and other non-White communities in environmental and conservation work is, unfortunately, nothing new. For centuries, conservation has been driven by Eurocentric, Judeo-Christian belief structures that emphasize a distinct separation of “Man” and “Nature”—an ideology that does not mesh well with many belief structures, including those belonging to Indigenous communities.
Before the onset of such religion through colonialist conquests, the overwhelming consensus throughout the world was that human beings were just a small part of this natural world. Neither detached, nor superior. Of course, this “consensus” was not necessarily expressed in such a way that all groups adhered to the same belief structures. Yet, the underlying environmental ideology remains: Human beings are, to some extent, connected to all other living things on Earth, even the Earth itself. As European imperialism—and along with it, cultural genocide—began to take hold worldwide, so began the spread of the “Man versus Nature” dogma.
Christianity has deep, painful historical associations with the obsession of dominance. The same Bible that was used to enforce humans’ domination over nature was also used to force Indigenous peoples to abandon their cultural truths for those more palatable to Europeans. This laid the foundation that continues to separate human life from nature to this day.
Experiences rooted in genocide and slavery, for example, still inform people’s experience of the outdoors. Black people were forbidden to enter certain spaces owned by the National Park Service and other natural lands because of Jim Crow laws and deeply rooted racism, as pointed out by researchers Rachelle K. Gould and others. Many were lynched in these landscapes as well. Thus, for Black people, experiencing the outdoors was to put one’s life on the line.
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