One of the perks of working at a university is the abundance of interesting free lectures and discussions going on all the time. A few months ago, I was able to attend a discussion by Dr. Garland Allen, Professor Emeritus, Biology Dept. who teaches the history and philosophy of biology – particularly genetics, embryology, and evolution – and their interrelationships between 1880 and 1950, most of which I don’t really understand.
But a lecture he gave that captured my interest was on the connection between the formation of National Parks, the Sierra Club and Eugenics, the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.
The lecture was fascinating on many levels, but the one point I want to address in this reflection is the racist beliefs that some of the key people who started the Conservation movement including John Muir held. Conservation leaders like John Muir believed that the indigenous people who had inhabited Yosemite for at least 6,000 years were a desecration and had to go. Now whether this was because John Muir and other Americans wanted Yosemite for an American National Park and the First Peoples who lived there were in the way is a story for another occasion.
The point that really got to me was that the white men who were designing the parks, establishing the Sierra Club, etc. viewed the First Peoples as already extinct. Even while their Eugenic standard of “quality” genes are reflected in the First Peoples, they did not include them in their thinking. Partly because they thought the American soldiers had or would eliminate them, and but also First People were on land that Americans wanted and interfered with their way of thinking of them as actual humans.
The broken treaties, some 357 out of the 400 that were made with the First Peoples, are still being broken today, for the same reasons. No matter where the Americans keep pushing the First People; land, water, mineral rights found then force the People off and treaties are ignored.
You only need to look to Standing Rock to see how the systemic racism, genocide and greed continues. For further info, https://www.facebook.com/Standing-Rock-Sioux-Tribe-402298239798452/