The Seattle chapter of the Audubon Society drops “Audubon” from its name to be more inclusive

know about The Seattle chapter of the Audubon Society drops “Audubon” from its name to be more inclusive

The Seattle chapter of the Audubon Society announced that it will drop “Audubon” from its name due to its association with white supremacy.

There are hundreds of state and local chapters of the National Audubon Societythe non-profit organization dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats, but Seattle Audubon It is one of the largest in the country.

Earlier this month, the board voted to change the name of the chapter because the man for whom the organization is named, illustrator, painter and bird lover John James Audubon, author of the seminal work “The Birds of America,” he owned enslaved people and opposed abolition.

J. Drew Lanham, a former National Audubon Society board member and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, called the move courageous.

Lanham, who has written about Audubon and left the national chapter over concerns the nonprofit was not doing enough for racial equity, says organizations must grapple with what to do with monuments that represent the worst of humanity. . Names are part of it, Lanham said.

Audubon was a “genius artist in many ways, but a despicable human being,” Lanham said.

“Excusing inhumane acts as if they were in the context of their time is, I think, a lazy excuse,” Lanham continued. “Those are the excuses the privileged often fall back on when they don’t want to make changes.”

Lanham added that it is particularly important that conservation efforts strive for diversity and inclusion because environmental conditions often affect Black, Indigenous and other people of color the most.

A person wrapped in a scarf and jacket with the hood up looks through binoculars with a mask on, two other people and some trees are out of focus in the background.

ice cream outside

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golden brick events

Chevon Powell’s event production company, Golden Bricks, hosts events including the Refuge Outdoor Festival and Sundaes Outside to provide inclusive outdoor experiences for Black, Native American and other people of color.

Chevon Powell, who five years ago started King County Shelter Outdoor Festivalwhich caters specifically to diverse communities, called the decision to change the chapter’s name overdue.

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Powell says that those who get into birding will gradually learn about the history and then might think to themselves “oh, this space really isn’t for me.”

Powell says that without significant changes, such as the removal of white supremacist names, “eventually, some people will say ‘I’m going to walk away from this.'”

Last year, the Audubon Naturalist Society, a Washington, DC-based environmental organization, announced that it would also drop “Audubon” from its name, but is not affiliated with the National Audubon Society. Seattle Audubon is the first major chapter of the National Audubon Society to signal its intention to change its name.

A painting of two warblers with yellow coloring on a bare branch.

Luis Agassiz Fuertes

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Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bachman’s warbler, one of two birds named after the Reverend John Bachman and illustrated here by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, is probably extinct.

Claire Catania, CEO of Seattle Audubon, said discussions about a possible name change at the organization coincided with broader questions about the role of racism in the United States that arose in 2020 as protests over police brutality erupted across the country. the country.

Shortly thereafter, dozens of American birding experts released “Bird Names for Birds,” a Campaign change the names of the birds with the names of white men who perpetuated colonialism and racism. For example, the group has pointed to the need to rename Bachman’s sparrow, a bird named after the Rev. John Bachman, a former slave owner.

Catania says biographies of Audubon and other bird names have taken most white members by surprise.

Still, he says he hopes other chapters will study the issue and make similar changes.

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“We hope that by making this public statement now we can open a path that will hopefully be easier for others to follow,” Catania said.

In the end, Seattle Audubon says its main goal is to make more people feel welcome in dedicated conservation spaces.

Seattle Audubon plans to hold a listening session Tuesday and choose a new name by the end of the year.