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The Sierra Club vows to face a history of White supremacy and racism, starting with founder John Muir

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The Sierra Club announced it will address its racist early history in a series of blog posts, including some words and actions of its founder, renowned conservationist John Muir.

Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s executive director, in a letter posted on the organization’s website, spells out some of the issues with Muir and vows to face White supremacy in its past.

“The Sierra Club is a 128-year-old organization with a complex history, some of which has caused significant and immeasurable harm,” the letter said. “We must also take this moment to reexamine our past and our substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.”

Muir and other members’ racist history

Brune starts by pointing out that while Muir’s influence on environmentalism cannot be denied, the organization views some of his friendships as concerning.

“Muir maintained friendships with people like Henry Fairfield Osborn, who worked for both the conservation of nature and the conservation of the white race,” he wrote.

Brune also points to derogatory remarks Muir made against Black and Indigenous peoples that “drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes, though his views evolved later in his life.”

“As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club,” the letter continued.

Brune also brings up the White supremacist viewpoints and actions of some early members and leaders of the organization, including Joseph LeConte and David Starr Jordan.

Trying to fix a history of exclusivity

The early membership process was also extremely exclusive — for White upper or middle class men, Brune says. New members were only brought in on the recommendation of current members, and applications from people of color were always turned down, the club said. Nowadays, the organization has over 3.5 million members.

Reforms will try to fix some of the lasting issues in the club’s history, Brune says, including redesigning their leadership structure so that “Black, Indigenous, and other leaders of color at the Sierra Club make up the majority of the team making top-level organizational decisions.”

Five million dollars of its budget will also be shifted to make investments in the organization’s staff of color and on environmental and racial justice work.

“I know that the steps I’ve outlined above are only the beginnings of what will be a years-long process to reckon with our history, regain trust from the communities we have harmed, and create a diverse and equitable Sierra Club for the 21st century,” Brune concluded.

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