By American Indian College Fund Indigenous Visionary Sasha Sillitti
My family’s historical home is in the community of New Town, North Dakota, located on the Fort Berthold reservation. The closest recycling collection center for a wide range of materials is located 150 miles away, causing a lack of interest in my community regarding recycling habits.
My personal interest in recycling stems from my own excess use of products that come encased in single-use plastic containers, ranging from bottled water to shampoo bottles. One day I realized as I picked up a pile of empty plastic water bottles from my car’s floorboard that I was not helping matters by continuously adding these plastics to piles of trash that are overfilling our nations landfills. I started collecting and transporting my recyclables and it became a habit that I still continue and will for years to come.
A few years after I started collecting my recyclables, I was approached by my mentor, who presented me with an opportunity to expand my recycling practices.
My Indigenous Visionaries community-based project began as a grant-funded recycling research project overseen by Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College’s (NHSC) Dean of Students and my mentor at the time, Dr. Kerry Hartman. The project focused on implementing a recycling program on the NHSC campus.
Initiating the recycling program on campus allowed us to test the public response to the project with a diverse fraction of the New Town community. This research provided us with the knowledge needed to construct efficient methods of collecting, sorting, and transporting recyclables on a small scale, as well as repurposing of eligible materials. The College Fund’s Indigenous Visionaries fellowship provided me with the support and motivation needed to further expand the recycling program to the entire New Town community.
Establishing a community recycling program on the Fort Berthold Reservation is important because it could help restore and strengthen traditional values within the community. Historically, like most Indigenous beings, the Mandan (Nueta), Hidatsa, and Arikara (Sahnish) tribes held the Earth, its inhabitants, and resources in high regard. Wasting resources was unknown to our ancestors, who were highly self-sufficient and resourceful for thousands of years prior to colonial contact. They made full use of any resource they acquired and lived their lives focused on the care of their relationships with the environment. A large part of the success of our ancestors came from the tight-knit community bonds that were encouraged through mutual priorities and assistance. Recycling resources not only helps reduce the rate at which we use natural resources and the amount of litter polluting our planet, but it could also help bring our community closer together, united and working together to accomplish these joint goals that are in alignment with the goals of our ancestors.
Community interest and involvement with the project have begun to increase and communications with community leaders have produced an optimistic outlook for future reservation-based recycling initiatives. Continued efforts in creating community awareness about the importance of recycling and ways to participate will be essential to increase community support moving forward.
There are still many details that will need to be assessed to ensure the recycling project’s successful implementation, however, I feel confident based on the progress we have made.