From “The Land is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery” by Sarah Augustine
When friends visit our home on the Yakama reservation for the first time, they often ask why there is so much trash in the yards of many of our neighbors. This is what I might have asked, too, when I was living in the dominant culture. My judgment of Henry and his beer can comes to mind.
Our family produces two neat cans of garbage per week; there is no local recycling program. Each can holds forty-four gallons, and together they weigh approximately eighty pounds. Using this estimate as our guide, our family of three generates about the national average of garbage each week. For approximately twenty dollars per month, a waste disposal company comes each week to carry it away. No one need look at it or be inconvenienced by it.
Is the fact that our family can afford to have our garbage carted away a sign of our neatness, or goodness? Living here these past fourteen years, I have a different analysis: having trash in your yard is a function of poverty and systemic oppression. Not having trash in your yard is a function of privilege.
Do families who can’t afford to have garbage carted away deserve scorn and judgment that they are being dirty, lazy, or wasteful? They don’t demonstrably generate more garbage than others. Most of the Indigenous folks who live around here realize that their land was taken from them unjustly and that the beneficiaries of that theft live right here. Yet those same beneficiaries turn around and point to the ability to have trash removed as justification for why we deserve the land. We are neat, we are good people because we pay someone to carry our garbage away. We are good neighbors.
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