Why We Renamed The Big Room at The Environmental Center

big room

Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.

Shirley Chisholm

Not every act of white supremacy is overt. Some acts are hidden discreetly behind noble causes or good deeds. Oftentimes in the environmental sector, white-male dominated legacies and namesakes take precedence over Native and Black people’s history. 

When groups lack the necessary intersectional and justice-based approaches to their conservation work, the results can bear calloused consequences. And while this country continues to grapple with its deeply embedded ties to a white supremacist history and system of order, many individuals and organizations are uncovering their own complicitness in the erasure of Black and Native people’s lives and experiences as it relates to climate and environmental justice. 

The Environmental Center has been making efforts to improve its service to our community by centeringe voices that have long been absent in environmental causes: the voices of Black, Indigenous and Native, and people of color. As part of our mission to embed sustainability in the lives of every central Oregonian, we recognize that our actions speak louder than our words. 

Striving to lead with action and intention, The Environmental Center has removed the name “Audubon” from our large meeting room space, a name that holds a gruesome legacy of exploitation and violence towards Black, African, Native Americans and Mexicans. 

John James Audubon was the premier ornithologist of his time. He was also an enslaver, slavery advocate, phrenologist, and grave robber. His writings and actions demonstrated that he viewed Black and Native people as less than white people. The legacy of glorifying historical figures such as Audubon, who directly opposed the freedom of enslaved people, must come to an end as we recognize the complicitness we hold onto when we glorify his name for the sake of conservation. 

We want all members of our community to feel safe and welcomed in our facility and feel seen and valued equally among us. We still have so much learning to do and will continue to uncover the ways in which we do or don’t contribute to the systematic oppression our BIPOC communities face daily. We hope you’ll join us in learning more about this topic and others while also expanding your allyship practices.

As of May 2024, we’ve removed the “Audubon Room” plaque in The Environmental Center’s building, and will refer to this room as the Big Room until future discussions can be had about a new name that better reflects our values.

Here are a few resources to learn more: