Recycling as Ritual – Part II

By David Stone

[Continued from yesterday…] Over the past year or so, I was introduced to the tension between the cultures, Native and white, on the basic issue of knowledge. Whose knowledge? To some traditionalist Native intellectuals the standard American education can be seen as an extension of colonization. As a scientific consultant from Tucson, I worked with the administration of the Tohono O’odham Community College to bring green technologies to the Nation, assumed to be a good thing. But my sensitivity was being sharpened as to the exact nature of what I brought and how it would be implemented. Was it a beneficial gift? Would it really help over the long run? Certainly if it involved collaboration then we were at least starting off in a positive way. There are many problems to deal with including the effects of global warming.

From these desert-tempered, mountain-wise people we can learn how to begin facing our daunting array of challenges. From them we learn where to go to find our way again. Go to the land. That is the O’odham way. So we begin with a simple and humble act of paying respect to the land. We begin by cleaning the desert. We stop and stoop and pick up an old liquor bottle half-buried in the sand. Then we repeat this act thousands of times. Others join us. The communities participate. Soon we are processing tons of glass, crushing the discarded bottles with hand tools into aggregate for building. We combine the glass aggregate with waste steel dust and dirty water and an exhaust gas, CO2. We build a bench of this reactive mix and we “sit down on carbon.” We lay a sidewalk and we “step down on global warming.”

In these small symbolic acts, we take a step toward a new, more ecological culture beyond the industrial Iron Age. Through the ritual of picking up bottles, of cleaning the desert, we build a space for a new and strong spirit. That is our simple vision. But it will come in its own way and time. We know only that by healing the land we heal ourselves. This is a good path and will bind us and the land together.

It is the time for the ritual.
To dance, to sing…
so that the earth may be fixed one more time.

Ofelia Zepeda,
Tohono O’odham linguist and poet

About the author: David Stone is an instructor and EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassador at Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Arizona. He has a PhD in Environmental Science.

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