COMMENTARY: Stepping over garbage

by Jul 6, 2021OPINIONS


One Feather Staff


We live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Long walks by crystal clear creeks, jaunts up mountains, or a driveway on the parkway. It is rare to have this type of nature on your doorstep. That is why it is so disappointing when too often we kick aside burger wrappers on the way out of our doors.

Cherokee has a litter problem.

We can deny it all we want, but all one must do is look to the side of almost any road. Piles of trash from your favorite fast-food chain or bottles galore. This isn’t even to mention the likelihood of stepping over loose needles on the ground. It is beyond discouraging. We should not have to hang our heads when we walk a loop around our neighborhood.

The Cherokee One Feather just finished hosting our debate series for the 2021 Tribal Elections. The first question in each of the debates for Tribal Council was what our prospective Council members would do about the littering and landscaping issues on the Boundary. While there were a few strong ideas, for the most part answers carried little-to-no weight to them.

A common idea among Council candidates was to simply ‘do better’ as individuals in our community. You can’t argue with that, of course. We all should do more in a concerted effort. The trash gets there somehow. So, if people didn’t lazily throw it out of their window, we would be much better off. Also, if everyone that complained about the trash would go pick it up every now and then the community would be a lot cleaner.

These remarks are fine on a casual, passer-by basis. But we’re talking about Tribal Council. Leadership in our community. We elect them to a powerful status so that they can enact creative ways to better our community at the will of people, not to give the same opinion I could get on Aisle 3 at Food Lion.

In saying this, I also know that I can be better. At the start of the year, I did my best to pick up at least one full bag of trash each week from around Acquoni Road. I did this for a while but eventually lost momentum. Seeing new trash each week weighed on me, and then one day I realized it had been over a month since I brought out the old reacher-grabber. By writing this I hope to spur myself, as well.

The statements aren’t wrong, they just fall short of inspiration. Our communities do need to band together. Whether that be through a new organization or our community clubs, there should be a unified effort to tackle this situation. Increased staffing and maintenance services through the Tribe would also be a boon, but we as a collective would be much better off if we can join together to assist with the problem. We shouldn’t have to rely on municipal services to get things done, especially when it comes to the appearance of our land. Then, when resources are provided from the Tribe, it becomes that much easier and more efficient.

An organized effort that was mentioned during the debates was implementing the jail system and inmates into sanitation services. I think this could be the tip of the iceberg for community outreach in the jail system, something else that is severely lacking in Cherokee. Going to jail should not strip you of your humanity, and an organized system for community involvement would be helpful on multiple fronts. But that is a full conversation for another time. This could be an opportunity for inmates to offer a service and to be a part of the community. They could also potentially earn some financial benefits if the system was structured correctly.

This idea has been a calling card over the last several elections, yet I haven’t seen any movement when it comes to getting the program going. The logistics require municipal functions to work with the Cherokee Indian Police Department and the jail, so I could understand that there are some policies to iron out. However, I feel this something that could be of tremendous value to all parties.

Another aspect of this is if the program was launched, we can’t rely on it. Picking up trash shouldn’t be something that we only see done by inmates. The beauty of it is that they would be helping better our community, and we should all do the same. That is why other efforts need to be pushed and associated with each other. Otherwise, this practical solution could become stigmatized. We are all after the same goal – to build a better home.

We are a strong people. One of our core values as Cherokees is respect. Whether that be respect for each other, our elders, our traditions, or our land. When we litter, or sit idly by, we go against all of that. It is frustrating that a simple curtesy could swell to such an enormous issue, but here we are. We are better than this. Let us not be spoiled and take our land for granted. It is one of the most important things that we have left.