Don Muller

This tribute was written by David S. Steward.

Don Muller came to Alaska in 1974 with his wife Mary Stensvold to work as a chemist at the pulp mill.  He soon found that work distasteful to the environment. He changed careers, becoming an owner and the manager of the Old Harbor Bookstore, a business developed by core Sitka conservationists.  The bookstore has become very widely appreciated and regionally respected as a place to find substantial books, including works about nature, native art, history, and books for children.  They also sell charts so that the waters surrounding Sitka can be explored safely.

Don is a passionate conservationist.  He takes principled stands. That places him again and again into the midst of controversy.  His principles come from deep within and began with his struggles as a student at the time of the Vietnam War.  His personal journey includes work with his father on the Hells Canyon Dam which spans the Snake River between Oregon and Idaho, and a year spent in a refugee camp in Thailand.  The former taught him how fragile the wilderness is, as the river was tamed and much of the canyon drowned by the dammed waters.  The people of Thailand taught him the power of political systems to compromise even the humanity they existed to serve.

During the past twenty years, Don has become attracted to non-violent resistance as articulated and practice by Mahatma Gandhi.  He has learned that the powerful emotions he feels can be directed through the discipline of civil disobedience, in which unjust laws are violated and the legal consequences endured as a moral protest.  Don engaged in his first civil disobedience with Greenpeace in 1991 and has followed that with several engagements which have resulted in court appearances and jail time.  He has become skilled at satisfying his anger by receiving the castigation of whatever powers he finds oppressive.  As with all true moral situations, there are few certainties.  Don returns to Gandhi’s non-violent resistance, even when he does not see immediate benefit from his actions.  He likes to quote Gandhi’s words:  “Whatever you do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

Don has been an important conscience within the Sitka Conservation community.  His stances sometimes make others feel uncomfortable, for they confront what we assume to be necessary.  But through his radical action he keeps the community aware of its ethical limits, and his non-violence serves as a model for living with and within conflict.


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