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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Environmental racism and trees

Environmental racism is a complex topic. It is much larger than can be discussed in detail in a space such as this. However, I would just like to provoke some thought on one aspect: trees. Trees are the meeting place where government, big business and urban social planners conspire to make green deprivation of people on the margins complete.

Greenspace Deprivation
Most of my life has been spent in two cities, New York (Brooklyn) and Vancouver (Canada). The poorest sections of both these cities have two striking similarities. The first is: a scarcity of green spaces and trees. The second is an overabundance of unwanted wildlife, rats, mice and roaches. For some, the only escape from the company of these unwanted guests is a drug or alcohol induced stupor.

The euphemism, concrete jungle, is consistent with popular sentiment and public policy toward these urban areas and their inhabitants. Policy and practice convey the message that inner cities and their residents need to be managed, contained, and kept from infringing on the civilized and cultivated parts of the city.

It appears that city planners have decided that their inner city residents are not worthy of the company of trees. This may seem a bit harsh and emotional, but I feel that the presence of green spaces and trees are both necessary and nourishing to people regardless of their socio-economic standing. Therefore, I regard the scarcity of green spaces as another instance of disregard for the well-being of the marginalized. This is not to say that trees and greenery should be present solely for their usefulness to inner-city dwellers rather trees and humans are both part of what constitutes community in areas where trees had been part of the indigenous flora.

Lifeways Murder
Our rural northern counterparts escape the work of city planners but fall prey to the whims and greed of multinationals. The Boreal forest is a remarkably biologically diverse and dynamic domain, extending some 15 million square kilometers over one-tenth of the earth's northern land surface, and about one-third of Canada (Source: Boreal Forest Network).

In Canada, the boreal forest ecosystem stretches across most of the north. The survival of the boreal forest is intrinsically linked to the cultural survival of the Indigenous Peoples who live within its boundaries. It is home to the majority of the over 600 First Nation communities in Canada, eighty percent of the Aboriginal population in Canada living in this forest eco-zone. Some Indigenous communities that inhabit the frontier boreal forest of northern Canada still practice their traditional way of life and depend upon the forests for their food, medicines, and economic livelihood. For Indigenous Peoples, land is where economic, social, spiritual and physical spheres merge, which is why their cultural attachment to that land is so strong. Large scale industrial development such as forestry, mining, hydroelectricity and oil/gas exploration are threatening the Boreal forest and the lifeways of the Aboriginal people for whom it is home.

For more info:
Visit the Rainforest Action Network and Take Action for Grassy Narrows First Nation

Visit Free Grassy Narrows web site

Visit CPT in Canada

Visit First Nations and the Boreal

View the RAN report: American Dream, Native Nightmare: The Truth About Weyerhaeuser's "Green" Products and Homes (PDF)