COMMENTARY: Talking trash

by Apr 28, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


We should be as concerned, as a people, about the environment as any people group. It is in our genes. The relationship of the Cherokee people to land, wind, water, and sky is spiritual and the stuff of myth and legend. Today, we speak of environmentalism and conservation, but our ancestors lived it. Care of the environment was not even something they thought about, nor talked about. It was their way of life.

In a forward to Barbara Duncan and Brett Riggs book, “Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook”, Freeman Owle wrote the following:

Go Like a Child

How would I like visitors to approach the Cherokee Heritage Trails? I would like for them to forget that this country-the great United States-even exists. I would like for them to go back to a time when there was only the Creek and the Choctaw and the Chickasaw and the Cherokee in this area. Back to a time when there were no massive roads and cars. And to go out and to just feel, and to listen to the voices of the past. To realize that the hawk and the eagle and the crow that fly above these grounds have that appreciation of the past. The fishes are the same fishes. The birds are the same birds. The insects are the same insects. We are the only ones who’ve grown out of our place.

We must be quiet long enough to be able to get back to the point of appreciation. It would be to go into these places with reverence and with a time of silence. Then and only then can you look around and see great mountains and their panoramic view as the Cherokee saw them thousands of years ago. Then in the silence, you will begin to get a great appreciation for what you’re sitting on or standing on-the Earth itself. Be quiet enough long enough that you become a part of it.

Teach your children how to be quiet. They’re born from Mother Earth. Watch them when they are little. They love to take their shoes off and run their little toes through the soil. They love to take their shoes off and run in the water and in the rain.

We are born with the appreciation of the earth. I hope people will go to these sites with an open mind. Go like a child.

It would be a wonderful world if Freeman’s thoughts were a universal philosophy for our people. Surely to maintain a population as large as our own requires some industrialization. But as much as we humanly can, we should strive for unity with and care for that which the Creator has provided. I read the part about being a child and running our toes through the mud and thought of that joyous time in my own childhood when I had no cares except when I might be able to get out and play in, and sometimes eat dirt (it is funny how the taste of mudpies changes over the years).

Now we have to wonder about the soil. How safe would you feel for yourself or your child to kick and stomp through the mud these days, knowing that there is a better than fair chance you might impale yourself or your child on a used needle or broken shards of a beer or liquor bottle? And before we chorus the old line that it is those darn tourists, let me say that we are as guilty as any visitor in our misuse of our lands. You see just as many vehicles with tribal tags throwing trash out their windows as you do those with out-of-state tags.

We say we care for our environment but do little personally to care for it. Yes, I am aware of the small groups who do work as best they can to make a dent in trashy issues. But what do you and I do individually to stop and reverse the mountains of garbage we create?

In a recent publication of the One Feather, Scott McKie Brings Plenty reported on a recycling bin giveaway for tribal programs and employees for recycling plastics. Several years ago, the Cherokee Youth Council put on a similar giveaway to bring awareness and facilitate the use of recycling in the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) offices to help reduce useless waste in our Tribe. These groups and entities who produce and distribute these materials do good and mean well, but the old saying applies here; “you may lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”.

Many of those blue recycling bins from years ago may still be seen around the offices in tribal buildings, most of them not being used for their intended purpose. Unfortunately, this leads me to believe that, even though we have good intentions, our actions are not matching our words. Our trash talk is betrayed by our deeds or lack thereof.

We haven’t received an update in several months on the initiative to tear down some of these burned-out and decaying structures that line our streets, but the process seems to be slow-going. Beyond being eyesores, there are real health hazards associated with dilapidated structures from fire to physical injury. And in a governmental system that has as much control of land use and abuse as any in the world, it is puzzling why it takes so long to address such a prominent need. From the economic impact of poor curb appeal for our visitors to personal injury potential for our people and animals, we should be asking our leadership to expedite this effort and provide more frequent updates on progress.

Speaking of reporting, the EBCI Natural Resources program, at the request of the One Feather, has begun a quarterly report of our river’s water quality. What a huge step in the right direction that Michael LaVoie and his team are stepping up to the plate, working together to provide the community with an understandable overview of the relatively complex (at least for a layman like me) measurements that our Natural Resource program monitors to ensure the safety and functionality of our river. A high-tech version of the spring lizard in the well-house or the canary in the coal mine. So, a big shout out and thank you to Natural Resources for all that you do to preserve our environment and for being willing to be transparent in the work that you do.

I am routinely amused by a chamber pot that I have seen online and in at least one local shop. To put it as delicately as possible, before the advent of indoor plumbing, chamber pots were the “restroom facilities” in many homes, and yes, they were literal pots or bowls with lids. These were even used in train berths (living compartments) when train travel was the “in” way of mass travel. The chamber pots for these trains would carry the disclaimer “Notice to Passengers: Do not empty this chamber pot out of the train window.” Probably because you never knew who would be standing under that window or who might wander up on your leavings unknowingly. And it was just poor hygiene and social practice. You just shouldn’t throw your leftovers or residue out of your vehicle while moving or not. There are even laws against it in some places.

Environmental advocacy is more than lip service. We can’t talk about how much we care and then throw our fast-food leavings, cigarette butts, and sometimes even our household trash bags out the window of our SUV. The best place to start making a difference is to clean up our act at home. And this is our home.