There are many people all over the world who view the Lakota as humans who are still one with nature. In fact, many of us remain deeply connected with Mother Earth through ceremony. Also, most American Indian Tribes are viewed by many as environmentalists because of our connection to the land.
We are often called stewards of the Earth. I have read stories about how the American Indian people were designated as the original caretakers of Mother Earth. Many elders have also stated that our role is to protect Mother Earth.
Still, as we drive through our own homelands it often does not appear that we are the environmental stewards that people say we are. We have big problems disposing of our trash. It really doesn’t matter what reservation you drive through either because many have the same issues with trash disposal.
Here on the Rosebud you can drive around and see where people have tossed out their bags of trash along the highway. And now we have illegal dump sites which make the problem much worse.
Every spring on my rez there is an annual clean up. This clean-up usually starts in April to coincide with Earth Day. It is the time of year when we are all supposed to work together to clear all the debris which accumulated during the fall and winter. It is also the time of year when I see tribal entities, community members and tribal officials squabble over who is doing what.
It seems that the annual clean-up, along with many other activities on most reservations all across Indian Country, always stirs up that proverbial bucket of crabs. When you work to do something good, there will always be those people who are never satisfied.
For instance, some will not be satisfied with who is organizing the clean-up. Others are not satisfied with where the trash is piled before it is hauled away to the landfill. And still others won’t be satisfied with the color of the trash bags. I guess you can’t please everyone.
Most of us who live on the rez know about the crabs in that proverbial bucket. Still, let me remind you of who they are. They complain about most everything which happens on the homelands. No matter what is being done to improve the community it will never be good enough for them.
Also, some of them drive around in the community, brazenly stalking the people who are trying to make a positive difference. They gather in their little cliques and verbally condemn everyone involved. These are the Lakota people who are the role models I do not want my takoja to imitate.
When we all work to keep our own yard and surrounding areas free of debris there will be no reason to bicker over who is or who is not involved in the clean-up. There will be no more complaining about all the trash lying around. Right?
Still, I know many people who have a lot to say about all the garbage lying in the ditches, in the streets and in private yards. Many are hypocrites because they will complain about it all the while continuing to throw their beer bottles, candy wrappers and soda cans out of their car windows.
Also, there is always a limited amount of dollars available to pay for solid waste removal. Recently, I listened to discussion at a meeting about allowing tribal members who are sitting in jail to work with the solid waste program on my rez. For instance, people who still owe an outstanding fine to the tribal court are provided with an opportunity to help with the reservation wide clean up. There is no money involved, it is all in-kind work. For every day the tribal member works with solid waste, he or she gets a portion of their fine reduced.
Of course, there are tribal members who will not be satisfied with who gets the credit for creating a project which allows people sitting in jail to work with solid waste in lieu of making cash payments on their court fines. Like I said, clean-up always stirs that proverbial bucket. To me, it doesn’t matter who thought about using tribal members who are sitting in jail to help with the clearing of debris. What matters to me is a reservation clear of unsightly trash.
I appreciate a clean community. Everyone is quick to blame solid waste for all the trash blowing around. Still, if we would all be a bit more careful with our rubbish we might find there is no longer a problem. Simply picking up can make a huge difference.
And it seems as though the trash problem is always magnified in our larger communities. Here on the Rosebud Rez, we have at least four big communities. They are Antelope, Rosebud, Parmelee and St. Francis. These are the areas which have the most residents.
Some of the debris in these big communities has been lying around for years and years. Burned out houses quickly became permanent piles of charred junk. They have always been an eyesore. It takes a lot of work to clear out an area where a house fire occurred.
In the last few weeks several residents of St. Francis Community worked very hard to beautify their district. They cleaned up piles of trash and debris which had been sitting for a very long time. They also cleared at least five abandoned lots which were sites of house fires.
I know both Rosebud and St. Francis paid daily cash stipends to community members who helped with the clean-up. Many used their own vehicles to haul garbage to the landfill, which is a 90 mile roundtrip. I commend everyone who had a hand in cleaning up the homelands. I also appreciate the tribal programs which assisted with finances to buy gas and pay day labor to those who volunteered to clean up everyone’s mess.