Ecojustice Elders

Each year, campers at Ecojustice Camp learn about Ecojustice Elders — people who helped teach the world about respect for the interdependent web of life, including both other human beings (even those who don’t look or talk like us!), and the rest of the natural world.

Henry Thoreau

For two years, Henry Thoreau lived in a cabin that he built himself. While he lived there, he grew much of his own food. He wanted to show that you could live simply.

While living at Walden, he went to jail because he refused to pay taxes to support the Mexican American War. He thought this war was unjust.

Thoreau’s family were conductors on the Underground Railroad. His cabin at Walden Pond was a “station” on the Underground Railroad, where people escaping from slavery could safely stay on their trip to freedom.

For many years, Thoreau kept a field notebook, which he called his journal. In his journal, he made careful records of the natural world. (You can learn how to keep your own field notebook in chapter 9.)

After Thoreau left his cabin, he went back to live in his parents’ house. He helped his father run the family business of making pencils. He had his own business, working as a surveyor. He liked working as a surveyor because he could spend time outdoors. And he helped his mother with her work on the Underground Railroad.

Henry Thoreau believed all of life was sacred. He loved the outdoors, and he also worked for justice his entire life.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland, probably in 1822. In 1849, when she was about 27 years old, she freed herself and escaped to Pennsylvania. After she was free, she returned more than a dozen times to slave states to help more than 70 enslaved African Americans free themselves. Then during the Civil War, she served the U.S. Army as a scout.

To help other African Americans escape from slavery, Harriet Tubman had excellent outdoors skills. She was a skilled hiker, able to walk hundreds of miles with almost no equipment. She could find her way on long journeys using the sun and stars. She knew how to travel without leaving anything that would allow slavecatchers to follow her.

She was also a superb naturalist. She could live off the land, and knew which plants were edible. She knew how to hunt animals for food, how to skin them and cook them. She also knew about herbal remedies, and could find plants to clean wounds or relieve pain. All these skills were important in helping African Americans escape to freedom.

Harriet Tubman used her outdoors skills, and her knowledge of the natural world, to make the world a better place.


Ishi belonged to the Yahi people. The Yahi lived in the foothills around Mount Lassen, in northern California.

When people from the United States and Mexico discovered gold near Mount Lassen, they began moving into the Yahi nation. They brought diseases that made many Yahi grow ill and die, and they took over land that the Yahi used to gather food.

Almost all the Yahi died of disease and starvation. Of his entire extended family, only Ishi managed to survive. For a long time, Ishi lived alone, and stayed away from the white people who had invaded the Yahi land. But at last, he bravely decided that he would join these new people who had taken over his country.

Ishi was offered a job working at the Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco, and he moved o that city from his home near Mount Lassen. For the rest of his life, Ishi taught other people how the Yahi people lived in harmony with the natural world.

He made friends in San Francisco, and taught his new friends many of his outdoors skills—how to make a bow and arrows, how to start a fire using things you find in the woods, how to make a harpoon to catch salmon, and more.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and a naturalist. In 1945, she began to notice that certain chemicals were harming wildlife. There was one chemical, a pesticide called DDT that was particularly bad for wild animals. She wanted to find out how DDT was harming the environment. So she left her job with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and began to work full time as a writer and researcher.

She found out that DDT was especially harmful to certain birds, such as Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons. These birds ate prey that had DDT in them. The DDT stayed in the birds, and made the shells of their eggs too thin. Instead of hatching, the eggs cracked open. So Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons were slowly dying off.

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote a best selling book, Silent Spring, that told how DDT was killing wildlife. The companies that made DDT tried to stop her by saying she was not a real scientist, and that she was a bad person. But most people knew she was right. By 1972, the United States made it illegal to use DDT.

Rachel Carson used her skills as a scientist to make the world better for both human beings and wildlife.

Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez lived in San Jose and had a job as a farm worker. But he began to see that farm workers were not treated well. So he began working to help other farm workers to get better pay, and to be treated better.

One of the things Chavez noticed was that the pesticides used by farmers to kill harmful insects were also bad for human beings. Some farm workers who picked grapes said they were getting ill from the pesticides used on the grapes.

Chavez knew that if farm workers were getting ill from the pesticides, the people who bought and ate the grapes could also get ill.

He organized a boycott of grapes. He told everyone across the United States that they should not buy grapes because the pesticides were making the farm workers ill, and might make other people ill, too.

Cesar Chavez helped many people see that what is bad for the natural world is also bad for human beings.

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai was a college professor in the African country of Kenya. She lived in the city, but she often went out into the country, too.

While she was in the country, she noticed that many women who lived on farms had a hard time finding enough wood for their cooking fires—most of the farm people in Kenya did all their cooking over open fires. She also saw that in many parts of Kenya, soil was washing away because there weren’t enough trees.

Women all across Kenya were having a hard time because there weren’t enough trees.

This gave Wangari Maathai an idea. Why not get together a group of people who would plant more trees? She called this new group the “Green Belt Movement.” Many women liked her idea, and soon there were women all over Kenya who were growing new trees to be planted.

And her idea worked! Planting trees helped to protect the environment, and it also made life better for human beings.

For her work with the Green Belt Movement, Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the most important prizes in the world.

Text on this page copyright (c) 2022 Dan Harper. Used by permission.

Ecojustice Elders Posters

Click on the image below for a PDF of 6 Ecojustice Elder posters.