Today marks Indigenous Peoples Day, a day to celebrate the contributions of Native peoples to this great country.
It’s also time to reflect upon the sad and horrific acts committed against this country’s Indigenous Peoples through the years.
As a children’s author, I never thought I’d be writing about race and racism. Instead, I planned to write about subjects far removed, such as biographies or silly adventure books about my mischievous cat, Bluebell.
But that changed as I was finishing my upcoming book, “Sophia Discovers the Real Treasure, A Story of John Muir, Father of the National Parks.”
In it, Sophia (who, in her last book, learned about Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day), travels back in time to learn about another great conservationist, John Muir.
But, it got complicated. As my text was wrapping up, the Sierra Club, co-founded by John Muir, wrote about disparaging comments he made about Native people he encountered. The Sierra Club’s article shared the abhorrent white supremacist views of Muir’s colleagues. It discussed the privilege of the early Sierra Club’s exclusively white members.
And I realized I had to include such references in my book. I reached out to professors in Native American studies, experts on John Muir’s life, members of Native tribes.
I researched about the killing of Indigenous Peoples in California to clear the way for white settlers. I learned about broken treaties and the forced displacement of people from lands their ancestors had lived on, and taken care of, for centuries. I explored the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples right here in my home state of Wisconsin.
I understood how the original title of my book, “Sophia Wanders the Wilderness,” is inaccurate and offensive because the land around Yosemite had been inhabited, and cultivated, and cared for, by Indigenous Peoples long before John Muir–or any white person–ever even laid eyes upon it. So, it wasn’t a wilderness, it was their home.
The revelations were eye-opening and relatively unknown to me. The discoveries of these facts–and the discovery of my ignorance–were shocking. And so very, very sad.
And I learned a lot.
But I realize I have so much more to learn.
So, celebrate Indigenous Peoples today, but remember to acknowledge the suffering they’ve endured.
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