Environmental Racism, by definition “is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color (Brady). Minority groups are often forced to live in places with insufficient resources, more polluted air and/or water quality, areas that are generally unsafe and hazardous to an individuals health. There were many examples of looking at environmental racism using Critical Race Theory in A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki. Although all groups in Takakis’ text experienced some form of environmental racism, some of the more prominent groups were Native Americans, African Americans, and Latine Americans. These three groups, although vastly different, have experienced in some forms, similar experiences when it comes to environmental racism. Native American Context: Sydney Cook In Chapters 2 and 3 of Ronald Takaki’s book A Different Mirror, he discusses in depth the treatment of Indigenous people when settlers arrived. Settlers at the time believed the Indians did not deserve the “greater part of the land” as they were such uncivilized savages. They believed Indians did not know how to use the land for all of its resources. At first, they laid claim to small parts of the land, after the cultivation of tobacco took off settlers began claiming larger parts of the land and the most bountiful parts. This is a great example of how environmental racism is rooted in the history of this land and has always existed. In December of 1854 the Nisqually tribe signed the Treaty of Medicine Creek. Article 3 of that treaty stated that: “The right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory.”
This meant that tribes could continue to fish for salmon to feed their families as they had done since time immemorial. As time went on promises that were made to the Nisqually and other tribes, were broken. The WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) began confiscating fishing nets and trying to push the tribal fisherman out. Nisqually tribal members knew that they were being denied their treaty rights. Activism and fishing wars began. Among the many tribal fishermen that were arrested for fishing in their homelands, was Billy Frank Jr. Billy was arrested more than 50 times in relation to fishing disputes. Billy took on an influential role in what became a movement among Indigenous people of the pacific northwest. He organized protests, demonstrations and fish ins. He was involved in many lawsuits against the state for not maintaining the signed treaties. This conflict would continue for decades. Billy as well as other tribal fisherman fought tirelessly, leading up to United States v. Washington, also known as the Boldt Decision. The Boldt Decision upheld treaty rights and awarded tribes 50% of the catch in their “usual and accustomed” fishing grounds. This restored and reaffirmed the livelihoods and frankly the way of life of many indigenous people.
While this was a great victory, indigenous people we still see environmental racism today regarding fishing in the pacific northwest.
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