Youth Summit 2019 attendees © Noah Cole
Recent weeks have been a great awakening. We have been reflecting on our work and how we operate in light of systemic racial injustice and police brutality. Much has been written linking racism and the environment and on why environmental justice is essential for a sustainable future. These are not new ideas but they’ve received a wider consciousness from recent events and subsequent protests.
Our vision is an Ontario where nature inspires and sustains us for generations to come. But how can we imagine such future when systemic racism and other forms of social injustice present barriers and limit who is included in the “us”? Systems that perpetuate racism, social injustice and inequality are also at the root of the global biodiversity crisis. Advocating for the protection of people and the planet go hand in hand.
Environmental racism is a daily reality for many communities. It helped fuel the environmental justice movement, which arose in the late 1960’s when research showed landfills and hazardous waste facilities were disproportionately located in black and brown neighborhoods in the United States. Settler land policies have also resulted in the displacement of Indigenous people off their lands where protected areas were established in Ontario and across Canada. Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have often, and at times systemically, been excluded from environmental and land use decision-making. As a result, BIPOC communities carry the heaviest burden of environmental degradation.
BIPOC often have less access to green spaces, are unwilling host communities to polluting industries, are disproportionately affected by climate change and have a higher risk of pesticide exposure. Across Canada, northwestern Ontario has the highest number of Indigenous communities living with long-term drinking water advisories.
Many BIPOC naturalists, birders, conservation scientists and ecologists have to constantly explain their reason for existing and too often they find their voices silenced. Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson says, “consider the discoveries not made, the books not written, the ecosystems not protected, the art not created, the gardens not tended,” due to racism. Christian Cooper, a black birder, was recently accused of threatening the life of a woman in New York City simply because he asked her to follow the rules and leash her dog in sensitive bird habitat. Natural spaces are neither safe nor inclusive for everyone.
Black Lives Matter is not a denial of the importance of other lives, it is a call for inclusivity challenging us to recognize privilege and to speak up in the face of injustice. At Ontario Nature, we stand for the rights of BIPOC and against all forms of racism.
Ontario Nature is committed to listening, learning and taking action. We are proud to have been outspoken about Indigenous injustice, the lack of diversity in the outdoors, and of our work alongside Indigenous partners. But we can do more, and we will do more.
We commit to:
- Conduct organization-wide training about diversity and inclusion;
- Better reflect diversity and inclusion in our policies and procedures, and values statement;
- Facilitate a safe space for staff discussions about diversity and inclusion in our work and operations;
- Give a platform to BIPOC writers and photographers in our blog and magazine;
- Share and amplify BIPOC voices and work across our social media channels;
- Profile more BIPOC people in our communications; and
- Acknowledge that dismantling systemic racism and discrimination is a journey, and we will accept criticism, reflect and adapt as we move forward.
If you would like to get involved in any of these action items, or if you think there is anything we are missing, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline Schultz, Executive Director