Talkin' trash

Material Information

Talkin' trash first world trash in a third world economy
Moore, Joanne Peetz
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
135 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Refuse and refuse disposal, Rural -- Great Plains ( lcsh )
Refuse disposal facilities -- Great Plains ( lcsh )
Indian reservations -- Great Plains ( lcsh )
Political ecology -- Great Plains ( lcsh )
Indian reservations ( fast )
Political ecology ( fast )
Refuse and refuse disposal, Rural ( fast )
Refuse disposal facilities ( fast )
Great Plains ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 128-135).
General Note:
Department of Anthropology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Joanne Peets Moore.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
54523128 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L43 2003m M66 ( lcc )

Full Text
Joanne Peetz Moore
B.A., University of Colorado, 1986
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Joanne Peetz Moore
has been approved
Stephen Koester
Craig Janes
2-3 'o'S

Moore, Joanne Peetz (M.A., Anthropology)
Talkin Trash: First World Trash in a Third World Economy
Thesis directed by Professor James Igoe
A common theme in political ecology is the idea that development programs
often approach local social and ecological problems as solely technological
and/or economic issues. This approach minimizes and replaces the local
economic, historical, and environmental context in which a problem has
developed with a reified development problem solvable by a single technical
solution. Ongoing problems with solid waste (trash) disposal on
reservations in the northern plains states serve as an example of how local
problems have been redefined by federal regulations and the bureaucracies
that maintain and enforce those regulations. The discourse used by the
bureaucracies further serves to alienate the solid waste problem from its
local context and place it in a homogenized context that fits the regulations
as opposed to the local dimensions of the problem. Unfortunately, the
technical solutions mandated by the regulations are designed for first world
trash (i.e. wrappers, packaging, and diapers) but are being implemented in
the third world economies of the northern plains reservations. Most tribes

simply cant afford the infrastructure to meet the regulations mandated by
the federal government. This thesis seeks to look beyond the technical and
regulatory aspects of the solid waste problem on these reservations by
using a political ecology framework to reveal the underlying local issues
such as the history of conquest and containment, ongoing sovereignty
debates, and contested definitions of culture and land that ultimately define
the true nature of the problem.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
James Igoe

I dedicate this thesis to my family (you know who you are!); without their
constant support and encouragement, this thesis would never have been

Many thanks to all the Faculty and Staff of the UCD Department of
Anthropology for teaching me not only about Anthropology but how to be an
Anthropologist. I will always aspire to your examples of scholarship and
citizenship. I would especially like to thank Tammy Stone for her skill as
graduate student advisor, Steve Koester for his unfailing support and
encouragement, Connie Turner for her unflappability, good judgement, and
friendship, and most especially, Jim Igoe for jumping in and helping me
make sense of it all. I am also deeply indebted to Kathy Weinsaft, Tina
Diebold, and everyone who works with solid waste on the reservations I
visited for speaking freely and clearly to me about these issues. Finally, I
wish to thank Orvella Burris, Spiritual Counselor at Thunderchild, who
provided me with much hospitality and many levels of insight.

Figures .................................................x
Tables ..................................................xi
1. INTRODUCTION...........................................1
Setting and Goals of this Study.....................1
The Trash Problem...................................5
Theoretical Approaches.............................16
Multi-sited Ethnography......................16
Subalterns, Hegemony, and Power..............19
Political Ecology............................25
Thesis Overview....................................40
2. THE WORLD ECONOMY.....................................43

Historic Integration into the World Economy: Allotments
and the Development of the Bureaucracy...............44
Current Integration into the World Economy...........49
The Commodification of Trash in the World Economy....58
The Value of Trash for the Core; The Cost of
Trash for the Periphery........................61
Tourism and Trash....................................65
Targets of Intervention..............................75
The Bureaucracy................................79
The Nature of the Intervention.................81
Contested Realities and Alternative Approaches.......86
4. SOVEREIGNTY............................................92
A Brief History of Sovereignty.......................95
Sovereignty and Trash................................99

5. HEGEMONY AND RESISTANCE..........................106
Power and Subalterns: Sovereignty as
Hegemonic Discourse............................107
Identity: Sovereignty as Ethnic Boundary.......111
Resistance: Contested Land, Contested Sovereignty.117
6. CONCLUSION.......................................125
WORKS CITED ............................128

3.1 EPA Region 8

2.1 Trash Sort Data

Setting and Goals of this Study
The Great Plains of North America reach out from the eastern slopes
of the Rocky Mountains at about 6000 feet above sea level and gradually
descend until they meet the Interior Plains at about 2000 feet. These grassy
prairies were once known as The Great American Desert due to their very
low annual rainfalls and lack of vegetation compared to the eastern parts of
the continent.
Today, the northern Great Plains include Montana, Wyoming, and
North and South Dakota. This area is largely agricultural and produces
mainly cattle and wheat, although other crops may also be seen as modern
farmers struggle to find profitable markets. Throughout the year, wildlife,
especially birds, may still be seen here. The Canadian Geese with their
distinctive honks are the easiest to find, but flocks of pelicans, cranes, small
groups of herons, several varieties of hawks, and eagles are also seen.
Herds of pronghorn antelope often appear suddenly on the side of a hill, but
other deer are usually only seen in creek beds at dusk; coyotes may be
heard at night, but the wolves are long gone.

The northern Great Plains are also home to 19 Indian reservations
which contain about 25 federally recognized tribes. The reservation
communities are not only rural, they are remote, reflecting the history of the
area. As Euro-American settlers spread west, they skipped over the
treeless and dry areas on their way to the gold fields of California or the lush
Oregon Territory. Finally however, the only land left for Euro-American
settlers was the prairie grasslands, and as these areas were divided up and
homesteaded, the American Indians fought their last battles here and were
finally settled on the parts of the prairies that appeared to be the driest and
least amenable to farming.
As the reservations were settled, the American Indians faced a new
way of life and new sets of problems that nomadic hunters had never had to
deal with. The problems faced by American Indians as they were forced into
a farming lifestyle based on the Euro-American model resulted from
changes in social organization, livelihood, resource management strategies,
language and spirituality, among other things. These changes, and their
past and present implications, are beyond the scope of this study and have
been well addressed by others. However, one aspect of a settled lifestyle
has been forgotten or ignored, much as it is forgotten and ignored by
everyone, everywhere, except those whose job it is to collect it: trash.

The goal of this study is to clearly situate the trash problem on the
reservations of the northern plains. At first glance, unregulated trash
appears to be simply a problem resulting from a lack of money and
technology, but after closer examination, it becomes clear that there are
larger issues, both practical and theoretical, embedded in this problem.
Unregulated trash tells us about the integration of the northern plains tribes
into the world economy. It also allows us to further understand issues of
conquest and its aftermath, especially the ways in which land allotments
continue to have an impact on Indian policies and planning. It also
illuminates the question of development on the reservations and the
resulting relationships of dependency, the history of the goal of assimilation
of the Indians, how the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) affects the
reservations today, and why sovereignty is such a powerful part of
reservation discourse.
To reach this goal, this study will first look at, what exactly, the trash
problem is on the reservations. As with most environmental problems, trash
is physically a local and regional problem, but what makes it especially
interesting is the window the practical problem opens onto the larger,
theoretical issues.

Throughout the anthropological literature, indeed throughout all
literature, there are many terms used to refer to the descendants of the
indigenous peoples of North America, and all are fraught with political angst.
Wilkins (1997; 2002) argues that the current term, Native American, is not
useful since it include(s) Hawaiian natives and the descendants of
immigrants from all nations, along with American Indians, Eskimos, and
Aleuts (1997:xi). On the other hand, indigenous people often use the term
Indian or American Indian (as opposed to Asian Indian) to refer to
themselves and these are the terms used in government regulations
(Wilkins 1997:x-xi). For these reasons, I have chosen to follow Wilkins lead
and use the terms Indian or American Indian to refer to the descendants
of the indigenous peoples who live on the reservations addressed in this
study; additionally, these terms contrast nicely with another term in current
usage, Euro-American. These terms serve as a convenient shorthand for
the cultural, economic, historic, scientific, and regulatory assumptions made
by both groups as they address the issues of solid waste in Indian Country.

The Trash Problem
At first glance, trash seems an unlikely problem for the rural, remote
areas of the prairies. After all, if something falls out of a trash can, it just
blows away. However, solid waste (as trash is more properly known), is an
immediate problem for communities, especially reservation communities,
that struggle to come into compliance with EPA regulations regarding the
handling and disposal of solid waste.
Trash is, by its nature, not something we as westerners think about.
We throw it away, and someone else comes along and collects it and most
of us never think about it again. Its just trash, after all. However, in the
U.S., the federal government has developed strict regulations governing the
proper handling and disposal of solid waste. The term solid waste is itself
very clearly defined:
any garbage, or refuse, sludge from a wastewater treatment
plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control
facility and other discarded material, including solid, liquid,
semi-solid, or contained gaseous material resulting from
industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations, and
from community activities, but does not include solid or
dissolved materials in domestic sewage, or solid or dissolved
materials in irrigation return flows or industrial discharges that
are point sources subject to permit under 33 U.S.C. 1342, or
source, special nuclear, or by-product material as defined by
the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (68 Stat. 923)
(U.S. Government 1996:82).

Solid waste is a problem for all communities for a variety of reasons,
including potential pollution of land, water, and air, threats to wildlife, threats
of disease transmission, and health threats to the workers who must handle
it. To respond to these potential threats, especially in light of how much
solid waste is being generated in the U.S., Congress amended the Solid
Waste Disposal Act of 1965 with the Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act (RCRA) of 1976. RCRA has been regularly amended since its creation,
but its overall goals of controlling solid waste from its creation to its final
disposal (from cradle to grave) by encouraging recycling, conservation,
and technologically sound disposal practices have not changed.
One result of the guidelines laid out in RCRA and codified in the
Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is that the federal government now
mandates solid waste management although most of the responsibilities for
designing and implementing local solid waste plans fall to State and local
governments. The implication for the tribes is that they must act as the
responsible local government under these regulations and design and
implement solid waste plans for their reservations. The problem with this
plan is that most reservations do not have the tax base that most states do
and the best scientific method for solid waste handling and disposal as
determined by EPA is extremely expensive: the minimum cost to build a
RCRA compliant landfill is $1 million (Kathy Weinsaft, conversation with

author January 13, 2001). The result of this is that most reservations have
no way to meet the requirements specified by RCRA and face citizen
lawsuits and enforcement action from the federal government in cases of
imminent hazard.
To avoid enforcement action against tribes that could not afford
compliance, Congress passed Public Law 103-399 (P.L. 103-399), The
Indian Lands Open Dump Cleanup Act, in 1994. This act was designed to
find and count the number of non-compliant dumps on reservations,
describe their relative threat to health and the environment, and provide
technical and financial support to tribal governments to close the dumps or
bring them into compliance. Indian Health Service (IHS) was the agency
mandated to carry out this law and report annually to Congress on the status
of dumps on Indian lands. The most recent report available is from 1998;
this report states that at the end of 1998 there were approximately 1104
open dumps on reservations throughout the U.S. and that about $126 million
was required in 1999 to mitigate the problem. In this report, IHS also
reported that since P.L. 103-399 was an unfunded mandate, they would
continue to try to address high priority problems as funding allows; IHS
reported that the $5 million allocated from their 1998 budget was spent on
24 different solid waste projects (U.S. Government 1998:7).

In order for the tribes to avoid lawsuits or enforcement action based
on imminent hazard (although there is really no stomach" for enforcement
in EPA Region 8) (EPA employee conversation with the author, January 22,
2001) they must show that they are making a good faith effort toward
compliance by developing a solid waste plan and then applying for grants or
loans to put the solid waste plan into action. Based on IHS own estimate of
the money required to bring all the reservations into compliance in 1999, it is
clear that solid waste compliance on reservation lands was not the federal
governments highest priority. (We can probably assume that after
September 11th and the war on terror*, this budget item has even less
priority.) The result of the current funding process for the reservations is
incomplete and nonfunctioning solid waste systems throughout Indian lands.
Most of the people I spoke with seemed to accept this situation
fatalisticallythey know that they cant build the entire system the right way,
so they send in grant requests with ideal project plans and take whatever
money they are awarded and buy whichever part of the plan was funded:
new trash trucks or a new baler or construction of a new transfer station
without funding for adequate shelter for the station employees. These
regulatory and technical aspects of the problem are interesting, but what is
more interesting is how well trash works as a focus of analysis.

At first, trash may seem an unlikely point of analysis unless one is an
archaeologist. It is something that humans have always generated and
have handled (or not) in a variety of ways. Yet, it is probably the
omnipresence of trash that actually makes it useful for analysis. Trash
exists in a nebulous place between being important and being irrelevant.
Today, we learn at an early age the importance of not littering, so we pocket
our trash or save it in some other way until we can throw it away properly;
however, once we have designated something as trash and disposed of it,
we usually never give it a second thought. This dual nature of trash makes
it an ideal window onto the historical and institutional processes that have
shaped life on the reservations today. The trash problem serves as an
example of how institutions produce ideas about the environment, the
structural repercussions of those ideas, and the social and economic effects
of those repercussions on the lives of the people living on the reservations.
In short, trash is a local environmental problem that has its roots in the
global influences of the world economy.
The enormity of this problem was brought into focus on a rainy, gray
day in Montana where I had the opportunity to visit a transfer station on one
of the reservations.
A transfer station is the place where trash is collected from individual
trash trucks, tightly compacted, and stored in bales until it is moved to a

RCRA compliant landfill. In most of these areas, individuals who are not
served by regular trash collection must bring their trash to a transfer station
and dump it there. The day we visited, a family pick-up truck also arrived to
dump their accumulated household trash. The family was informed that
there was now a $15/month tipping fee to dispose of their trash at the
transfer station. The family was surprisedthey had never had to pay to
dump their trash before. After some discussion, they drove away with their
trash. Later, I asked where that family would take their trash now that they
hadnt chosen the transfer station. I was told with a sigh they would either
burn it or dump it somewhere out on the reservation. After more questions,
it became clear that the new billing system had been implemented solely as
a financial and technological task; there had apparently been no public
discussion or education that a fee system was beginning. Tribal members
who had received bills and who had been slow to pay this new fee had had
their other utilities (primarily water) shut off until the entire utility bill was
paid. Tribal members not receiving trash pick-up services would pay the
same fee to bring their trash to the transfer station.
The transfer station was the result of several years of work and
planning by the tribe which needed to come into compliance with EPA
regulations, or at least show a good faith effort. To this end, the tribe
planned a transfer station, which is much cheaper than a landfill, to hold the

trash until there was a full load of compacted trash to haul to the nearest
EPA approved landfill. Getting the transfer station built required writing a
proposal for funds from Indian Health Service (IHS) and Rural Development
(RD), a lending institution administered by the Department of Agriculture.
These grants are offered only once each fiscal year, and each tribe that
must update their solid waste facilities must compete for them. On the
northern plains, all 19 reservations need to bring their facilities into
compliance, and are in competition with each other.
The tribal member who was showing us around had just implemented
a new billing system which complemented the new transfer station and
would make solid waste handling pay for itself. She was justifiably proud of
the computerized tracking and billing system as well as the monthly fee
system for people who must bring their trash to the transfer station. Based
on her calculations, the system would be self-sustaining within 6 months.
Ironically, in the rush to bring solid waste management into compliance, this
reservation had potentially created a different (but not new) trash problem.
After working years to train people living on the approximately 1 million rural
acres to bring their trash to a facility where it could be properly disposed of,
the new fees could make the old system of illegal dumping and burning
trash the only viable option for many residents of the reservation (the choice
apparently made by the family who drove away with their trash that day).

The image of the Indian family driving away with their trash,
presumably to burn it or throw it into an illegal dumping area, contrasts
deeply with the image most Americans, including American Indians
themselves, hold about how Indians live, specifically about how they live in
harmony with nature. Our current image of American Indians has largely
been shaped by the media. Many Americans will remember the so-called
Crying Indian from the Keep America Beautiful campaign of the mid-
1970s (Krech 1999:15). This campaign successfully used the image of the
Noble Savage who lived in the Euro-Americans constructed image of
American Indians for over 500 years, as the ideal person who lives in a state
of ecological wisdom and prudent care for the land and its resources
(Krech 1999:16-17). Krech calls this stereotyped image the Ecological
Indian. This ad campaign was so successful in using and reaffirming the
image of the Ecological Indian, that it seems surprising that there is a solid
waste problem on the reservations. How can someone who understands
the systemic consequences of (their) actions, feels deep sympathy with all
living forms, and takes steps to conserve so that earths harmonies are
never imbalanced and resources are never in doubt (Krech 1999:21) ignore
the process for properly disposing of their trash? The discrepancy between
the stereotype of the Ecological Indian and the reality of American Indians
throwing their trash anywhere on their lands is the central problem of this

thesis. In the next section, I will discuss the methodological approach used
to gather the data for this study.
Original research opportunities are difficult to construct and finance
for masters level students. Trying to balance the desire to investigate a
subject that is interesting with the reality that it be economically feasible is a
challenge for both students and their advisors. In an attempt to design a
research topic that satisfied my interest in current issues of the interface
between people and the environment, was achievable on a limited budget of
time and money, and met the requirements for a masters thesis, I relied on
friends and friends of friends in the environmental industry where I had
worked for several years. These friends told me they saw a huge problem
that was not being solved and urged me to use my education in
anthropology to look at it from a new perspective.
Fearing I had more technical than theoretical knowledge about trash
at that point (and in retrospect, not enough of either, actually), I was
privileged and fortunate to be able to travel with Kathy Weinsaft, an IHS
contractor, for a week during the semester break in January 2001. That trip
went well, and I traveled with her again during the summer of 2001 and

again in January of 2002. Each trip, we traveled to different reservations in
the northern plains region. Clearly, this was not the long-term, consistent
contact that is the ethnographic ideal; however, each trip allowed me more
insight into the problem and an opportunity to confirm or dismiss theoretical
constructs I had begun to develop. As I approached the first trip, I was
concerned about the unfortunate historic aspects of the relationship between
Indians and anthropologists and feared that if I stated that I was an
anthropology graduate student collecting data for my thesis, that the people
of the reservations would not speak freely to me, assuming they would
speak to me at all. After discussing this with Kathy, who also had to protect
her relationships with various tribal members, we agreed that I would be
introduced as someone who was job shadowing her. While technically
accurate, this description presented me with some ethical qualms that I had
not anticipated as I planned this project.
Bernard discusses disguised field observations (1994:347-349)
including the pros, cons, and ethical concerns of this method of fieldwork.
The most important con, and therefore the largest ethical concern is the risk
that detection may cause harm to others. Most importantly, " may not be
possible to foresee the potential harm that you might do using disguised
observation (1994:349). On the other hand, in order to be successful with
this method, you must be believable in the role, that is, the researcher must

look and act exactly as the. other participants would expect someone in that
role to behave (Bernard 1994:349). Balancing the pro that I was able to
appear to be a bureaucrat-in-training with the con of risk to others (mainly
tribal employees) made this fieldwork method manageable, despite the
second guessing of myself that occurred every time I began to write my field
Ultimately however, I believe that my fieldwork fell into the category
Bernard calls passive deception (1994:352). Posing as someone who
wanted to learn the job of assisting tribal bureaucrats to acquire access and
money to improve their solid waste programs was not untrue. The sin of
omission was in my alliance with a potentially suspicious academic
discipline. Finally, this deception was passive in that everything I observed
was as a fly-on-the-wall; I listened to and observed the days events as
they occurred, but there were never any attempts at experimental
manipulation of events or even interviews of the people I met.
This thesis reflects my attempt to balance my observations with a
theoretical and ethical approach. Kathys access allowed me to sit in on
several meetings which included people from the highest levels of tribal
government. Based on the trust she has developed with the people she
works with on the reservations, I was able to observe and gather comments
and opinions that may not have been available otherwise. In an effort to

limit unintentional and unanticipated risk to tribal employees and their solid
waste programs, I have specifically avoided using individual or tribal names
in an effort to protect those individuals whose opinions and unregulated
trash I was allowed to collect and sort through. In the next section, I will
introduce the theoretical approaches used to understand the global linkages
to this local problem.
Theoretical Approaches
Multi-sited Ethnography
The nature of this case study is multi-sited both in space and culture.
In the past, ethnography often focused exclusively on one locale, trying to
understand and then accurately represent that cultural locale in a written text
that other people from other cultures (and now times) could access. In this
way, a multi-sited study may seem not to be ethnographic by design
(Marcus 1999). A traditional ethnographic approach would probably have
focused on one reservation and the people, language, customs, and
perhaps even the environmental troubles of that locale. Instead, this study
focuses on an environmental problem shared by people settled onto
reservations under similar conditionsboth historically and

environmentallyin a relatively large geographic area, and then tries to
understand why that problem exists under those circumstances. This multi-
sited approach is different than a classical ethnographic approach, but it
does not necessarily challenge the limits of ethnography (Marcus 1999);
instead, it has the potential to extend those limits by focusing the
ethnographic method on a group with a shared history of conquest and
containment and a shared environmental problem as well as on the federal
institutions and global processes that created and maintain the trash
A multi-sited case study such as this could not be done without
reference to the work of earlier, more traditional ethnographies (such as
Grobsmith 1981; Hoebel 1978; Lowie 1982; McFee 1972; and Moore 1996).
These works, which document the customs, languages, and histories of the
various tribes now settled on the northern plains reservations, allow the
focus to shift from explicitly the Sioux, the Northern Cheyenne, or the
Blackfeet for example, to the present-day reality of American Indians with
similar histories of conquest and containment and their trash problem.
While each reservation has a specific and unique trash problem, the basic
problem of not meeting EPA standards for trash disposal is more
appropriately approached from the level of reservations and tribal
governments than from individual culture or language groups. This is

partially because the elected tribal governments are expected to solve these
types of problems by their constituencies, and partially because they
represent their people to the federal government in a way that is meant to be
generic from the federal governments point of view. More importantly
however, in taking a multi-sited approach, the articulation of local groups to
global systems, which in this case occurs through the institutions of the tribal
governments and federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs
(BIA), the Indian Health Service (IHS), and the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), becomes the locus of analysis. It is at this locus where the
institutions attempt to impose homogenous structures on the diverse cultural
forms of the Indians settled on the northern plains. The results of this
process of homogenization aggregate the diverse cultural groups into
interchangeable tribal governments which are juxtaposed against the larger
federal and global systems which contain them. So, while this case is multi-
sited in space and cultures, the historical processes to date have created
one group with an environmental problem that may be studied.
By focusing on a specific problem, the emphasis of the ethnography
is shifted toward the discourse surrounding the solid waste problem and the
institutional links created between the groups who have solid waste
problems and the groups who try work on these problems. The fact that in
several instances, these groups overlap in their missions and goals (as with

tribal environmental protection departments, Indian Health Service, and
EPA), is more clearly seen in the multi-sited context than if one locale alone
had been focused on. Additionally, the multiple sites allow analysis of the
fractures within one group and among several groups.
Subalterns, Hegemony, and Power
An important starting point for this study is the use of Antonio
Gramscis work on subalterns and the concept of hegemony. Crehan
(2002:123-124) explains that the term subaltern was borrowed from
Gramsci by scholars who were interested in changing the focus of historians
and social theorists toward the subordinated groups of India in an attempt to
more completely understand how those subordinated groups help shape
history and determine their own destinies. The groups efforts were so
influential that the term subaltern has gained wide usage among those who
refer to contemporary peoples who are still subordinated as a result of a
colonial past. However, Crehan cautions the anthropologist not to use the
term lightly because Gramscis approach was always one grounded in
specific places and specific history (2002:124). By this, she cautions that
not all colonized people's experiences fit well with Gramscis concept of the
subaltern classes of Italy, arising within the context of the development of

the Italian nation-state; this is especially true of the colonial experience in
India and Africa, where the subaltern outnumbered the colonial rulers.
With these cautions in mind, the term subaltern seems to be
appropriate in a discussion of American Indians. While the Indians and the
Italian peasantry are not analogous, the history of North America has
created a group that fits Gramscis notion of the subaltern better than some
subjugated populations elsewhere. Specifically, while Gramsci saw the
subaltern as classes, his definition of how to study the subaltern seems
appropriate to any discussion of the contemporary American Indian
Hence it is necessary to study: 1. the objective formation of
the subaltern social groups, by the development and
transformations occurring in the sphere of economic
production; their quantitative diffusion and their origins in pre-
existing social groups, whose mentality, ideology and aims
they conserve for a time; 2. their active or passive affiliation to
the dominant political formations, their attempts to influence
the programmes of these formations in order to press claims of
their own, and the consequences of these attempts in
determining processes of decomposition, renovation or neo-
formation; 3. the birth of new parties of the dominant groups,
intended to conserve the assent of the subaltern groups and to
maintain control over them; 4. the formations which the
subaltern groups themselves produce, in order to press claims
of a limited and partial character; 5. those new formations
which assert the autonomy of the subaltern groups, but within
the old framework; 6. those formations which assert the
integral autonomy,...etc. (Gramsci 1999:52; also quoted in
Crehan 2002:123-124).

This definition underlies and informs the logic of this study, but at this point it
is important to see that the term subaltern is a useful concept for analyzing
the human aspect of the trash problem on the reservations of the northern
plains. Interestingly, the term fits the Indians in the original, Gramscian
sense, but it also fits the more general definition of people who were
subjugated by colonial expansion.
Gramscis work on the concept of hegemony is also useful for this
study. Hegemony is a difficult concept to define precisely, because it is
used to describe relationships of power which can take many different forms
and is context specific. Crehan points out that Gramsci himself never really
defined hegemony as a concept; rather, he used it as a reflection of the
way in which actual power relations can take very different forms in different
contexts (2002:101). Despite this lack of precision, hegemony has become
a useful concept for discussing not only the relationships of power, but the
results of those relationships. Gramsci saw that power between the groups
who have power and those who do not is very intertwined with the society in
which it occurs. In other words, it is part of the fabric which is made up of
economics, government, and history.
The relationship between the intellectuals and the world of
production is not as direct as it is with the fundamental social
groups but is, in varying degrees, mediated by the whole
fabric of society and by the complex of superstructures, of
which the intellectuals are, precisely, the functionaries...What

we can do for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural
levels: the one that can be called civil society, that is the
ensemble of organisms commonly called private, and that of
political society or the State. These two levels correspond
on the one hand to the function of "hegemony which the
dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other
hand to that of direct domination or command exercised
through the state and a juridical government. The functions
in question are precisely organisational and connective. The
intellectuals are the dominant groups deputies exercising the
subaltern functions of social hegemony and political
government. These comprise:
1. The spontaneous consent given by the great masses of
the population to the general direction imposed on social life
by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is
historically caused by the prestige (and consequent
confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its
position and function in the world of production.
2. The apparatus of state coercive power which legally
enforces discipline on those groups who do not consent
either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however,
constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments
of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent
has failed (Gramsci 1999:12; also quoted in Crehan
I quote this at length because this passage not only describes how
Gramsci thought about hegemony, but also because it ties hegemony
together with the discussion outlined above. I refer specifically to Gramscis
conception of the intellectual as the individuals who organize and connect
the two levels of society and build the hegemonic relationship. While this
can be done by implicit consent of Gramscis subalterns or by legal
coercion, the first point to note is that it is the intellectuals who enact and
reify the power relationship. To fully make this connection, it is important to

understand that Gramscis concept of the intellectual is the people who have
a responsibility to produce knowledge and/or instill that knowledge into
others (Crehan 2002:131). Therefore, when consent is given, it is based on
the perceived authority of the intellectuals. Moreover, Gramsci divides the
functions performed by intellectuals into two broad types, social hegemony,
which has to do with winning consent, and political government, which falls
back on coercion when consent cannot be achieved (Crehan 2002:138).
The implications for this case study are important: the federal
contractors and employees who work on the reservations in specialized jobs
are Gramscis intellectuals who legitimate and enforce the hegemonic
discourse, not only of how to define and solve the solid waste problem, but
also of the larger social values that are packaged with that solution. In this
way, Gramsci complements the work of Michel Foucault because it was
Foucault who recognized and described the relationships between those
who control power and knowledge and those who do not. At the risk of
oversimplifying, Foucault provided the theory for the big picture while
Gramsci provided the theory for the details. Foucaults aim is to isolate,
identify, and analyze the web of unequal relationships set up by political
technologies which underlies and undercuts the theoretical equality posited
by the law... (Dreyfuss & Rabinow 1983:185). In order to achieve this,
Foucault looked at the institutions that have power over people and realized

that relationships of power are created without consciousness; that is, power
is created and maintained in the practices of institutions which literally
embody what the analyst is seeking to understand (Dreyfuss & Rabinow
1983:187). Therefore, the federal employees and contractors who work on
fixing the solid waste problem are living examples of Gramscis explanation
of hegemony over subalterns as well as Foucaults explanation of the
relationships of power between institutions and people. Combined, Gramsci
and Foucault provide the theoretical orientation for this study.
The concept of hegemony is also useful in understanding the history
and multiple concepts of sovereignty, especially since sovereignty is an
extremely problematic concept. It is hegemonic because it now pervades
the discourse of environmental problems and solutions; however, few
people, either on the reservations or off, would question its legitimacy even
though few would define it in quite the same way. For many people,
sovereignty is the basic issue around which all other issues revolve since,
for them, it defines identity. For others, it is a legal tool to be used (as either
a lever or a hammer) whenever there are disagreements between tribal and
non-tribal governments. Clearly, from the federal governments point of
view, it is an empty concept since for all practical purposes, the reservations
are totally integrated into the governmental systems of the U.S.; the U.S.
does not send ambassadors to tribal governments, but it does impose

regulations on them. Sovereignty is also hegemonic because it is a concept
created and defined by the laws of Euro-Americans. This has created a
situation in which, as Cohen noted, law dominates Indian life in a way not
duplicated in other segments of American society (1982:vii). Part of this is
the result of the specific history of contact between what became the U.S.
and the American Indians, but another part is that the law has been and
continues to be the main vehicle that Indians turn to in order to solve
disputes with non-Indians.
Political Ecology
Historically, questions of culture and environment have been
approached from the cultural ecology/human ecology/ecological
anthropology model. This approach focuses on the complex relationships
between cultures and the environment and has asked how human cultures
have adapted to specific, often remote environments (Netting 1986:90-92;
see also Greenberg & Park 1994:1). Quoting Bennett (1976:3), Netting
(1986:91-92) lays out four goals of a policy-relevant cultural ecology which
he believes is the next step in the research of the interactions between
culture and the environment. The first criticism is that anthropologists have
not usually looked at contemporary cultures which live in modern ways and

which have a heavy impact on the environment. The second, that the larger
institutional organizations have not been included in the analysis of impacts
on the culture and environment in question. The third criticism is that there
has not been enough analysis of the environment despite the name of the
model. Finally, that most studies have only looked at a culture-environment
relationship at one point in time which understates the point that cultures
and environments coexist and influence each other throughout history.
One theoretical approach to this criticism is political ecology, an
emerging model in the social sciences which provides a framework for
discovering why a seemingly simple problem remains unsolved. Broadly, it
has been defined by its three requirements: an analysis of the ways in
which local people interact with their environment; an analysis of the existing
power and access structures; and a historical analysis of the area as well as
the people (Blaikie 1985; Neumann 1992). While these three requirements
seem straightforward, they are broad enough to be applied inconsistently in
the literature and leave plenty of room for criticism of the model and its
conclusions. Indeed, even proponents of the model seem inconsistent when
defining it. While Greenberg and Park have acknowledged that the past
and present relationship between policy, politics or political economy in
general and the environment needs to be explicitly addressed (1994:8),
they also feel that it would be ill-advised to define political ecology and

maintain rather that all legitimate forms of political ecology will have some
family resemblances but need not share a common core (1994:8). Despite
this, political ecology provides a direction for research into environmental
issues that offers promising results for theoretical questions and real world
An important aspect of the political ecology model is that it is cross-
disciplinary in nature. In anthropology, this serves the original goals of the
cultural ecology/human ecology/ecological anthropology models by
recognizing the complex relationships that exist in questions about humans
and the environment and by building on earlier theoretical models. As
Greenberg and Park said, political ecology does not amount to a new
program for intellectual deforestation, rather it is a historical outgrowth of the
central questions asked by the social sciences about the relations between
human society, viewed in its bio-cultural-political complexity... (1994:1).
Clearly, environmental problems (such as one in this case) and the concepts
that frame them and their possible solutions are complicated and require
information and ideas that are not limited by traditional disciplinary
boundaries. As a model, political ecology facilitates research that requires
gathering cross-disciplinary data and combining it to create a more complete
description of the specific locale, and/or, the specific problem (Stott and
Sullivan 2000:4-5). An example of ideas coming from traditionally different,

and at times, opposing disciplines is found in this case study where data
comes from both the natural science (i.e. the physical chemistry of trash)
and the social science perspectives. Political ecology adds the dimension of
the environment to this model creating a more comprehensive view of how
economies and societies are affected by unequal relationships of power
(Greenberg & Park 1994:1; Stott & Sullivan 2000:2). Discursive analysis,
that is, understanding how cultural meanings are produced and understood,
also adds an important level of analysis to political ecology (Stott & Sullivan
2000). Especially important for this study is an analysis of the discourses
surrounding relationships of power and the institutions that maintain power.
This Foucauldian approach allows the discourse of the federal agencies
(e.g. the regulations) to be recognized as the mechanisms that connect the
environment and the problem to the larger global systems that define them.
Without an analysis of the discourse, the regulations serve to obscure this
Another interesting area for analysis of discourse resides in the
language and cultural meanings of science and technology. Like the
regulations, the discourse of science obscures, but at the same time
reinforces, the unequal power relationship between those who are hired to
work on the solid waste problem and those who live on the reservations.
Scientifically speaking, the problem of solid waste is a measurable problem.

That is, it is easy to measure how much trash is generated in a given time
period, to describe and predict the nature of the trash, and to accurately
estimate the cost of disposing of that trash. The measurability of solid waste
lends itself to the western science paradigm that rational planning and
management of the environment for the common social and environmental
good (Sullivan 2000:15) is easily achieved (cf. Escobar 1995:159-160).
Despite this, solid waste has been an unsolvable problem on the
reservations according to all measurements. Political ecology provides a
framework for discovering why a seemingly simple problem remains
Political ecology recognizes that science and notions of who is
ecological are culturally produced and permits the researcher to see and
analyze embedded concepts in measurable problems such as the solid
waste problem. In this way, the political ecology model accounts for the
ways in which the science of environment is socially and politically
situated, rather than unambiguous or separable from the subjective location
of human perception (Stott and Sullivan 2000:2). Working together, a
problem oriented approach using political ecology allows the researcher to
not lose sight of the people who have the problem while searching for the
historical, political, and economic roots of the problem; political ecology is
action. Based on this approach, anthropology has the potential to apply

Gramscis observation of whether the philosophy of praxis is not precisely
and specifically a theory of history...the answer must be that this is indeed
true but that one cannot separate politics and economics from history, even
the specialised aspects of political science and policy (Gramsci 1999:431;
also quoted in Crehan 2002:31).
Political ecology challenges the researcher to remain engaged in the
locale where the research takes place. Research into environmental issues
especially seems to demand engagement if the researcher is to remain
relevant to the debate. An environmental problem usually has
consequences for all people, not just the people immediately affected, since
air- and water-borne pollutants know no boundaries. Anthropology
grounded in the political ecology model focuses not only on the people (as in
a more traditional ethnography), but also on the environment they inhabit
and the relationships between local and global power structures. This
creates a level of analysis that tries to engage all aspects of the people and
the problem, give them the depth and breadth of consideration they require,
and (ideally) present them to a wider audience in a way that is accessible as
well as useful. This is the potential for political ecology: that the unique
position of the anthropologist allows translation and dissemination of
multiple discourses involved in an environmental problem (Sullivan 2000:33-
34). Ideally, the results of research informed by political ecology could lead

to real-world change. Interestingly, Gramsci foreshadowed this ideal in his
writings. Even though he was not an anthropologist and his concept of
culture was very different from the anthropological one (see Crehan 2002),
Gramsci stated that for change to occur, any would-be revolutionaries need
to understand the cultural realities they are bent on transforming, apart from
any other reason because counterhegemonies, capable of challenging in an
effective way the dominant hegemony, emerge out of the lived reality of
oppressed peoples day-to-day lives (Crehan 2002:5). In other words, only
a counterhegemony that comes from the people (the subaltern) will
effectively create revolutionary change and revolutionaries are not often
subalterns. This is the advantage that ethnographic research has for
effecting change: the day-to-day lives and observations of oppressed
peoples are the basic data that informs the research.
After most of the land in the great plains was claimed for either
homesteading or for the railroads, the process of total incorporation of the
northern plains reservations into the developing mainstream Euro-American
economy began (Debo 1983; Prucha 1984). While this period lasted from
about 1850 to the beginning of the reservation era in about 1880, this

process is important to understand because it illuminates how American
Indians currently live within the U.S. system and how life on the reservations
intersects with the regulations controlling trash. It is also important because
it demonstrates how the development paradigms used in this process have
resulted in the reservations being marginalized from the global economy;
that is, how their inclusion into the global economy has excluded them from
it at the same time (cf. Black 1990). This contradiction is an important part
of this case study and can only be fully examined through the thorough
analysis allowed by political ecology.
In this case study, development is used to refer to the programs
which were (and still are) directly meant to increase the material wealth of
the Indians on the reservations through socio-cultural transformation; this
includes their overall health and longevity as well as their education levels
(Hoben 2000:113). Esteva (1992) traces the concept of development to
1949, in the years of U.S. economic and political expansion after World War
II. He pins down the exact time, in a speech given by Harry Truman, when
development became a goal of U.S. foreign policy, explained as a
mechanism for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial
progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped
areas (quoted in Esteva 1992:6). At the surface, this was a laudable goal,
but what lay under the surface was the unquestioned assumption that in

order to make U.S. scientific and industrial advances possible in other
places, there would also have to be a framework of U.S.-style capitalism and
democracy imposed in those places, which by definition included huge
areas of the world. For those who did see this, it was seen as a reasonable
response to the spread of Communism, but unfortunately, most people (both
the developers and those receiving development) did not see that
assumption or what it would mean for the success of development. The
ability to make this assumption, Ferguson argues, is based on the decision
to keep development separate from politics and focus on poverty as a
strictly technological problem (1994:256). Since then, development has
connoted at least one thing: to escape from the undignified condition called
underdevelopment (Esteva 1992:7).
Underdevelopment and its opposite, development, are interesting
examples of hegemonic discourse. Biologically, development means the
growth process from immature to mature organism. When applied to
countries and people, it brings along the assumptions of linear change and
progressan underdeveloped country is an immature country, one that has
not yet reached economic or social maturity (Esteva 1992:8). When Truman
defined much of the world as underdeveloped and when the world accepted
that term into its foreign policy discourse, the assumptions of what it means
to be underdeveloped were accepted by both donors and receivers of aid

and a powerful hegemony was created that dominated much of the 20th
century (Esteva 1992). More importantly, if the goals of development are
taken at face value, the complete failure to improve the material conditions
of the underdeveloped world forces us to ask, what has development been
successful at for the last 60 years?
Unfortunately, the history of development projects has shown that
escaping underdevelopment is not just a matter of money and technology.
In the reservation context, especially in the years before World War II,
development existed as projects designed to civilize the Indians through
forcing them to accept Euro-American values of private property, farming,
and religion. These issues will be more fully addressed in the body of this
study, but for the purposes of this Introduction, it is important to recognize
that historically, escaping underdevelopment on the reservations was based
on the goal of complete assimilation into the larger U.S. society and
therefore, into the modern world economy.
Focusing on development as a series of projects that have been
imposed on the reservations since the beginning of the reservation era
requires a theoretical approach to explain why development has failed at
achieving its stated objectives. Dependency theory and the closely related
world-systems theory, explain the slow development of the reservations,
relative to the rest of the U.S. In its broadest application, dependency

theory recognizes that the development that does occur in satellite regions
is distorted by the dependency relationship with the larger society and by
the monopolization of special skills and jobs by those outside the satellite
area (Hall 2000:111). In this case study, this is seen most clearly in the
limited job opportunities available for tribal members to get the specialized
jobs required to design and implement a solid waste system. This illustrates
the results of the assumptions of underdevelopmentthat only people from
developed areas can bring development to the underdeveloped. More
importantly, it is an example of how the dependency relationship creates
more jobs for the core and more poverty for the satellite regions (Shiva
The dependency relationship and the goal of bringing development to
the world has created its own industry which Ferguson has called the
development industry (1990). On my very first morning on a reservation for
the fieldwork for this research, I woke up to find myself squarely in the
middle of the development industry as it currently exists on the reservations.
The tribal Super 8 Motel had a kitchenette, and as I prepared my breakfast, I
was introduced to doctors, health planners, and other consultants, all there
to work for the tribe in some capacity. All were paid by EPA, Indian Health
Service (IHS), or one of the non-profits that contract from EPA and/or IHS.
Most of these were white; none were American Indians. Eerily, the

breakfast reminded me of breakfasts at ex-pat restaurants in foreign
In defense of these people, I suspect that most are motivated by the
desire to help and to try to improve a situation that desperately needs
improvement. However, the nature and the discourse of the work is
controlled by the bureaucracies found in both the funding and regulatory
agencies and in the non-profits. This creates an industry that is tied to, and
ultimately responsible to the bureaucracies, not to the tribes. As will be
seen in this study, this is an example of Fergusons observation that
whatever interests may be at work, and whatever they may
think they are doing, they can only operate through a complex
set of social and cultural structures so deeply embedded and
so ill-perceived that the outcome may only be a baroque and
unrecognizable transformation of the original intention
The complex relationships between the tribes and the federal
government as played out among the federal contractors, bureaucracies,
funding cycles, and regulations illustrates not only the reliance on the
reservations for the creations of jobs for the development industry, but also
why development is never entirely successful and the reservations remain
underdeveloped; a result that a Foucauldian approach would point out is
necessary for institutional survival (Ferguson 1994). In the case of trying to
cope with the solid waste problem, the reservations are trapped between

needingand wantinga good solid waste system for obvious health and
environmental reasons, but also being required by how the problems are
defined to meet expensive and highly technological requirements, mandated
by federal regulations, which are never fully funded by the mandating
agencies. This results in solid waste projects being assembled over a
period of years (even decades) in bizarre and haphazard bits and pieces
that never solve the problem, but guarantee another round of grant writing
each year for the federal contractors, and inspections and reports by IHS
and EPA employees. In this way, the solid waste problem illustrates the
ongoing and interrelated cycle of economic dependency between the
reservations and the mainstream U.S. economy, a two-way relationship
which is the basis of the inclusion into and exclusion from the global
economy (Black 1990). These relationships will be more fully examined in
Chapter 2.
In order to attempt to examine the trash problem on the reservations,
it is important to understand how social science theories might be applied to
such a practical, environmental problem. By discussing the theoretical
models of political ecology, dependency, and hegemony, it becomes clear

that the very practical and even mundane nature of solid waste makes it
ideal for theoretical analysis. The political ecology model provides a
framework which allows investigation of people, history, and the
environment in the cross-disciplinary way required by the trash problem.
Acknowledging that the people in this case are subalterns in the Gramscian
sense of the word, opens an avenue for analysis of the position of the
reservations on the periphery of the world economy and the economic and
social results of that position.
A problem oriented focus allows this case study to retain the
privileged positioning of the ethnographic perspective (Marcus 1995:101);
that is, the subaltern need not be lost by including the world system
perspective because anthropologists start at the grass roots and work our
way up. Despite a focus on the discourse and systems that create and
perpetuate the solid waste problem, the issue that cannot be forgotten is
that trash is a problem that people on the reservations are living with in a
way that would be unthinkable in other U.S. communities. This is where the
political ecology model becomes most useful as a model that does not forget
the local while examining the global.
Since, in one sense, the reservations have been an ongoing
development project since their creation, dependency theory allows us to
see the complex relationships that result in the inclusion and exclusion of

the reservations from the global economy. We can also see how this
becomes hidden by the assumption that trash is only a technological
problem that can be solved with an infusion of cash. While there is no doubt
that given enough money, an EPA approved solid waste system could be
created and maintained on these reservations, that money is unlikely to
appear any time soon, and we are left with the problem of why this situation
is allowed to continue and what this tells us about the larger institutions from
the Foucauldian perspective.
Finally, when dependency theory is combined with Gramscis insights
of the relationships of power contained in his concept of hegemony, a
consistent pattern emerges and it becomes clear that the trash problem
reflects a more complex matrix of problems on the reservation based on a
history of conquest and containment, the imposition of the global economy,
the plains reservations histories of development, and the discourses of
identity as seen through the lens of sovereignty. As long as the trash
problem is seen as one of a lack of infrastructure and technological know-
how, the larger issues of power and the hegemony of the mainstream
culture that inform development projects are obscured at the expense of the
reservation communities.

Thesis Overview
We must return then, to the question of why I have chosen trash as
the environmental problem to organize this study around. As discussed
above, trash is an item that we live intimately with and yet never think about
which makes it a convenient, modern environmental problem that may be
used as an experimental direction for the political ecology model. As part of
the experiment, this study attempts to apply Bennets four factors, outlined
above. Specifically, the reservations and the Indians who live there are
taken as a modern culture which has a heavy impact on the environment,
although arguably because of their overall poverty, less of an impact than
other U.S. locations. Much of this study is focused on the larger institutional
organizations and how they have created and continue to maintain the
relationships of power that keep the reservations poor. While trash is the
organizing problem for the study, it is largely viewed through its theoretical
potential; the environmental implications of poor solid waste management
have not been explicitly addressed. Similarly, the culture-environment
relationship is assumed to have a historical component, but this is again
only addressed theoretically and without the archaeological evidence
necessary for understanding the actual physical changes in trash over time.
The multi-sited, problem oriented nature of this study also creates an
opportunity to test what Marcus has identified as three sets of

methodological anxieties: a concern about testing the limits of ethnography,
a concern about attenuating the power of fieldwork, and a concern about the
loss of the subaltern (1995:99). As discussed in the section on political
ecology above, I hope this study shows that the limits of ethnography can
still be extended, and that the political ecology model extends those limits in
a constructive and valid way. I also hope to show that the power of
fieldwork is not weakened by collecting field data over multiple sites;
focusing on one issue, in this case the problem of unregulated trash,
balances the multiple data sites and retains the power of ethnographic
fieldwork. Finally, I believe that this study will show that the subaltern will
not be lost if there is solid grounding in the complementary work of Gramsci
and Foucault.
To return to an earlier point made briefly, Gramscis outline of how to
study the subaltern (quoted on page 13) underlies and informs the logic of
this study. Indeed, it would be difficult to research any political topic on the
reservations as an ethnographer without reference to this definition.
Similarly, the work of Foucault on the logic of institutions underlies much of
this study and complements the Gramscian approach. By combining a
bottom-up approach with a top-down approach, I hope to create a complete
picture of why there is an ongoing trash problem on the reservations.

Using this framework, I hope to reach an understanding of this
problem and more importantly, what trash tells us about power, the
environment, social and cultural transformations, and identity on the
reservations of the northern plains today. The next chapter will explore how
the world economy has impacted the reservations in the past and how the
impacts continue today. Chapter 3 will discuss the past and present impacts
of development on the reservations. In Chapter 4, I will examine the
concept of sovereignty and situate it historically; this leads to the final
Chapter where sovereignty is used by the Indians as a way to produce
counterhegemonies and resist the imposition of values that came with
development and the world economy.

In this chapter, I will examine the world economy and how it impacts
the reservations, based on what can be learned from the trash issue. In the
process, I will show how trash is both a window onto the theoretical aspects
of the world economy as well as being a tangible result of the world
To do this, I will present details about how the reservations have
been simultaneously included into and excluded from the world economy. In
order to understand the reservations position in the world economy today, it
is first necessary to look briefly at the most important historical events that
contributed to the situation and still have effects today. Specifically, I will
discuss the allotment policy and the resulting creation of the bureaucracy on
the reservations as we know it today.
The next part of the discussion will be based on the practical
physical data about trash. This leads to a discussion of the income levels of
the reservations; the combination of the nature of reservation trash and the
cost to dispose of that trash provides the initial insight into the theoretical

and real world aspects of trash. I will next address the impacts of the rural
location of the reservations in this study on the costs and viability of effective
solid waste programs. Combined, these factors illustrate how the
reservations position in the world economy has important impacts on the
lives of the people living there as well as on their ability to dispose of their
I will then examine the ironic nature of trash as something we throw
away and yet value as a commodity. This will require a discussion about the
cost and value of trash and how the cost is burdensome or the value is
exploitable, based on ones position in the world economy. Finally, I will use
the current example of trash generated by tourism as an example of how
difficult it is for the reservations to escape the periphery of the world
Historic Integration into the World Economy:
Allotments and the Development of the Bureaucracy
The allotment policies of the federal government are generally
discussed as being the most important policies in shaping the reservations
as we know them today (Cohen & Strickland 1982; Debo 1983; Deloria &
Lytle 1983; 1998; Prucha 1984; Wilkins 1997; 2002). Beginning with the

General Allotment Act of 1887, these policies were explicitly and implicitly
meant to change the Indians ideas of communal land stewardship into the
Euro-American ideal of individual ownership of small parcels of land. It was
believed that this would rapidly advance the civilization process of the
Based on the successful formula of land given to European
immigrants under the Homestead Act, Indian heads of households were
each given 160 acres to farm (smaller pieces of land were given to those
Indians who were single or were otherwise not part of a household). The
land allotted was reservation land, but the treaty determined reservations
were usually larger than the amount of land required for the allotment
program. The result was that the land not allotted became surplus land
and was then sold to non-Indians who, it was believed, would help civilize
the Indians by living among them. This result not only quickly reduced
reservation lands and ended a nomadic way of life, but also led to
fractionation of the land as the result of inheritances, sales, and
foreclosures. Today, reservation lands are often a tangle of ownership
between tribal members, non-tribal members, state, and federal owners.
This fractionation is a complication for tribal governments as they try to plan
projects for their reservations.

By the 1920s, many observers of Indian affairs, both within and
outside of government, were calling for change in federal Indian policy.
After several studies, federal Indian policy changed the strategy of
assimilation from the allotment policies and programs to a strategy of tribal
self-rule as the method to more gradual assimilation (Wilkins 2002:113).
This policy shift was legislated through the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA)
of 1934 which practically forced the tribes to develop their own
governments, based on the model of the U.S. federal government. This Act
was a milestone in reservation history and its importance is thoroughly
discussed by legal scholars (see especially Cohen & Strickland 1982;
Deloria & Lytle 1983; 1998; and Prucha 1984); however, what is important
for this case is that the IRA allowed tribes to end allotments and begin to
repurchase lands lost during the allotment years.
The allotment program devastated the tribes culturally and spiritually,
and forestalled any chance that they may have had to develop within the
Euro-American economic structure based on their formerly large land
holdings. A more insidious result of this program was the creation of a large
bureaucracy to administer the program. In tribal days a Union agent and a
clerk or two conducted what was mainly a diplomatic relationship...; with
thousands of bewildered individuals stripped of tribal coherence, now it
required a large number of Indian Service employees... (Debo 1983:328-

329). The allotment program ended, but the bureaucracy continued. Today,
there are few aspects of reservation life that are not somehow touched by a
bureaucracy. However, it must be noted that now, the bureaucracy is as
likely to be tribal as it is federal in origin.
Like many developing countries, the economies of many of the
reservations are very poor; however, the larger problem is that the agencies
charged with correcting the solid waste problem (IHS and EPA, primarily)
see trash as only a problem of poverty, not as a problem with the history of
the imposition of a new economic system (Ferguson 1994; Niezen 2003).
This approach overlooks the specific, local details that contribute to the
problem and participates in the hegemonic discourses that define the
current development paradigm. It is a paternalistic approach, especially for
the reservations, in that it challenges the sovereignty of the reservations.
According to the tribes and their interpretation of the rights conferred by
treaties and the Indian Reorganization Act, the tribal councils have a nation-
to-nation relationship with the federal government. However, the history of
the relationship between the tribes and the federal government
demonstrates a paternalistic approach from the federal government, more
concerned with creating ideal English-speaking, church-going citizens than
treating the tribes as political equals.

Indians still receive an inordinate amount of bureaucracy as the result
of the history of their status as wards of the federal government, conferred
by their reservation lands being held in trust. Organizationally, the President
is, theoretically, in charge of all the agencies charged with providing services
to the Indians; however, this is an impossible task for any one person and as
a result, Congress and the president set policy through the laws they pass.
But even that is not terribly direct since most federal laws only give the
direction and (ideally) the intent of Congress, leaving the codification and
implementation of the laws to the bureaucrats (Deloria & Lytle 1983:37-38).
Indeed, the Congressional authorization is usually so broad and general
that the real decision-making power rests with the agency itself (Deloria &
Lytle 1983:38). One of the inevitable results of this is that once the agencies
have found an action that works and meets the limitations imposed by the
authorizing legislation, they are hesitant to try new ideas and tend to base
their decisions on past precedents. Innovative ideas, whether generated by
Indians or by non-Indians working on the reservations rarely stand a chance
of implementation in this atmosphere.

Current Integration into the World Economy
Underlying all discussions of the economics of the reservations of the
northern plains today is the reality of the reservations existing on the
periphery of the global economy. As insignificant as trash appears to be by
its nature, it is one way to explore the relationship of the reservations to the
global economy. To demonstrate the global interconnections of human
aggregates (Wolf consciously avoids the word culture here) is one task;
to explain the development and nature of these connections, however, is understanding of these connections is possible unless it is
grounded in the economic and political conditions that generated and
maintained these connections (Wolf 1990:385-386).
The problem of poor handling of solid waste is not unique to any
particular reservation, and yet there are a variety of problems that currently
exist among the reservations of the northern plains. Worst case scenarios
include regular burning of entire dumpsites, landfills or transfer stations that
were not completely funded resulting in trash piling up as the reservations
wait for the next grant opportunity, conflicts between solid waste planners
and tribal council members over the siting of landfills, and funding being
withdrawn after plans stall in tribal councils or after accusations of
embezzlement or other malfeasance. Each reservation has its own unique
history and current problems with the handling of solid waste. The theme

that unites them all is the ongoing relationship of the reservations, culturally,
economically, and legally, with the federal government and its various
agencies, and the larger global economy, in short, the simultaneous history
of inclusion into, and exclusion from the world economy.
The concrete part of these relationships is the trash itself, called the
waste stream by regulators and those who concern themselves with trash.
Rathje and Murphy call this an apt figure of speech (because) waste flows
unceasingly, fed by millions of tributaries. While many workaday activities
come to a halt on weekends and holidays, garbage flows on. Indeed, days
of rest tend to result in the largest waves of garbage. Christmas is a solid-
waste tsunami (1992:46). The waste stream and its constituent parts, is not
only the beginning of trash, it is a central part of the trash problem on the
reservations. Like many poor communities, reservation waste streams are
comprised mostly of paper waste and food waste, which is different from the
typical municipal waste stream. Paper waste includes emptied food
wrappers and boxes but often little junk mail, and food waste includes
eggshells, coffee grounds, and other unusable parts of food since most
reservation homes are on septic systems (no garbage disposals). In a trash
sort (trash analysis) performed on the Blackfeet Reservation in February
2000 (Weinsaft & Diebold 2000) paper wastes (all papers) accounted for
41% of the days trash, glass accounted for 12%, and cans accounted for

7% (see Table 2.1). The large proportions^ these wastes on the
reservations may be explained by the ironic fact that the poor usually cannot
afford to take advantage of bulk discounts; they must buy smaller packages
and cans as their cash flow allows. This results in the waste streams of
poor communities containing more packaging waste than the waste streams
of more affluent communities where larger packages and cans may be
chosen to economize (Rathje & Murphy 1992:65-66). Interestingly, food
waste (food discarded, not saved to be eaten later) accounted for 28% of
the waste stream at Blackfeet as opposed to the 7% found nationwide; this
may be explained by the availability of fast food on the reservations, by the
presence of school meal programs which result in large amounts of items
such as oatmeal, and by the incentives of casinos which result in piles of
shells and crab legs after seafood night (Kathy Weinsaft & Tina Diebold
conversation with author June 21,2003), or by the lack of refrigeration in
homes. ((Lack of refrigeration was speculated on by several people I spoke
with about this data. Anecdotally, refrigeration is inconsistent in reservation
homes due to a lack of reliable electricity (either from poor power
infrastructure or power cut-offs) or a lack of sufficient refrigeration relative to
the number of people living in a household.))
Research needs to be done to more clearly delineate categories of
trash; EPAs categories are too broad for the purposes of clearly

understanding the relationships between local economies and the impact on
the local waste stream. For instance, the category paper includes
newspapers and magazines, clearly not associated with food wastes.
However, in these data, these categories were so small (130 pounds or 6%
of the Blackfeet total trash for the two days of the trash analysis) that they
were not broken out for the purposes of this study.
Trash Sort Data (% of total weight)
Blackfeet National Pine Ridge Crow Creek Lower Brule
Paper f 41 37 f 27 19 36
Glass t 12 7 3 2 7
Metals f. f 7 r;'8'- -; :V" L 8 5
Plastics 5 9 5 10 15
Food ff : 28 34 25 29
Diapers 1 1 12 25 4
Textiles 1 3 13 7 4
Total of t 88 59 66 36 50
Total of all 95 72 96 96 100
Table 2.1 EPA trash sort comparison data of several reservations of the
northern plains and the national averages. (* National data from 1998 EPA
Solid Waste Characterization Data; t indicates trash assumed largely
generated with food waste) Only one of the columns adds up to 100%; the
difference is due to weight from other sources such as hazardous household
materials, car parts, flowers after Valentines Day, snow weight, etc. Note
however, that the categories listed account for most, if not all, trash
generated on the reservations included, but only 72% of the national
municipal solid waste stream. From Weinsaft & Diebold 2000.
As seen in Table 2.1, another important category of trash on the
reservations is disposable diapers. This is not the result of reservation baby

booms, but rather a reflection of what isnt in the waste stream; a reflection
of poverty. Unlike a typical municipal waste steam, there are no appreciable
amounts of lawn and garden wastes, or paper wastes from homes,
businesses or industries, so diaper wastes become a much larger proportion
of the reservation waste stream. Setting aside the debate on whether
disposable diapers or cloth diapers are harder on the environment (a debate
largely focused on where energy is expendedin the making of the diaper
or the washing of the diaper), for the purposes of this study, the amount of
diapers in the waste stream is another indication of the economic position of
the reservations. When money is tight, it is only spent on necessities and
the waste stream reflects this.
Similarly, there is also little waste other than food wastes from
reservation businesses since most of the businesses are restaurants and
the food marts associated with gas stations. However, these food
containers must be landfilled according to EPA regulations, and the
regulations for safe disposal are making solid waste very expensive to
dispose of.
This creates a compelling dilemma for the reservations. Unlike food
waste from developing countries where there is little packaging but a lot of
food (which reflects one of the advantages of packagingmaking a larger
proportion of the food in the package edible for longer periods of time)

(Rathje & Murphy 1992:216-219), reservation food waste includes a lot of
packaging. The food waste is very modern; it comes from the same
manufacturers and distributors that sell food in any other part of the U.S.
However, this modern trash, which is largely non-biodegradable and often
toxic when burned, can only be disposed of in very modern and expensive
ways. The reservations are financially unable to meet the standards for
landfilling of this trash. In this context, the reservations are included into the
world economy enough to be consumers of modern food products and
generators of modern trash, but not included to the point where they can
afford to dispose of this trash properly (cf. Black 1990:43).
Inclusion into and exclusion from the global economy is most easily
seen in reservation income levels. Based on this, referring to the
reservations of the northern plains as having third world economies is not a
casual or hyperbolic statement. The average per capita income of the 19
reservations in question is $9196 (authors calculations based on 2000
Census data) (U.S. Government 2003). When compared to the national per
capita income of $21,587 (all figures in 1999 dollars) (U.S. Government
2003a), the discrepancy in ability to pay for the landfilling of solid waste
becomes clear. This discrepancy may also be seen in a comparison of
median family incomes. The average of this figure for the 19 reservations is
$25,779 compared to the national median family income of $50,046 (U.S.

Government 2003; 2003a). While family incomes may be a better figure for
the purposes of this study (families/households are billed for utilities) either
figure demonstrates how a cost that is invisible to most Americans is
magnified in the reservation setting.
The inclusion/exclusion paradox may also be seen by looking at the
location, geography, and the existing infrastructure of the reservations.
Location and geography complicates the handling and disposal of solid
waste on the reservations in this area. These are rural communities and
most of them are extremely remote. If the reservation cannot afford to build
their own landfill, then they must pay to have that waste hauled off-
reservation to the closest regulated landfill. To collect the trash from each
household involves either trash trucks with weekly routes or a population
willing to control their household trash (protect it from the elements) until
they are able to bring it to an appointed location. The roads that either the
trash trucks or the households must travel to move the trash into regulated
landfills are frequently dirt roads and are usually not well maintained. This
adds hard wear and tear to tribal equipment and discourages many
households from legally disposing of their trash.
So far, it has been shown that the nature of reservation trash,
reservation incomes, and the rural location of the reservations have
provided insight into how the reservations of the northern plains share the

important economic problem introduced at the beginning of this chapter:
they are all peripheral to the U.S. economy while at the same time being
integrated into it (Black 1990). However, this peripheral position has much
deeper implications for life on the reservations today. Pickering (2000)
discusses the relationship of the Pine Ridge and Rosebud (Lakota)
reservations to the world economy thoroughly; her well-made points may
also be applied to all the reservations in this study. In general, market-
based jobs are difficult to obtain in peripheral areas (both economically and
geographically) like the reservations of the northern plains. The limited
number of jobs means that wages remain low and there are few
opportunities for promotion. Finally, the business norms of the U.S.
economy do not work well in the peripheral areas occupied by the
reservations (Pickering 2000:14). This is seen primarily in the tension
between the values imposed by the mainstream business model and the
traditional values retained by the Indians living in the periphery. One
example of this tension in values was described by Pickering who told about
a time clock kept at a workers home in order to ensure that he clocked-in on
time every day (Pickering 2002). She used this example to demonstrate
how, out of context, the market ritual of the time clock and the money-in-
exchange-for-labor assumptions behind it, are lost in the reservation
periphery where traditional social relationships are still much more important

than the values of the market economy. There is thus an economic and
political side to the formation of idea-systems, and idea-systems, once
produced, become weapons in the clash of social interests (Wolf
1990:390). This clash of social interests, namely, the clash of traditional
values and imposed market values are the result of the reservations
position on the periphery of the world economy.
However, it is not enough to discuss the integration of the
reservations into the world economy only from the point of imposed
capitalism (Crehan 2002; Ferguson 1990). To do this would not only be an
incomplete analysis of the history of the integration, but also risks denying
the participation of the Indians in this process, adding the insult of not
recognizing their part in this history to the injury of integration. It is important
to remember not only that the Indians have their own cultures that changed
in response to the shared history of Euro-American expansion into the
northern plains, but also that in the past as well as today, there are
individuals with their own agendas who participate in the situations that
respond to and continue to shape the relationship with the world economy
and the trash problems on the reservations.
As seen above, the trash problem on the reservations is, in part, a
result of the modern nature of the trash. But modernity has another part in
this problem, namely, that modernity, as defined by Marx and Engels, is

change. Crehan calls this change dynamic modernity (2002:56) and in this
sense, trash becomes a symbol of modernity, a symbol of change in the
ongoing history of the integration of the reservations into the world economy.
Reflecting on the tensions between traditional values and market values,
trash can be seen as a symbol of the dominant modernity as it conflicts with
the modernity that is evolving on the reservations.
The Commodification of Trash in the World Economy
The issues of collecting and landfilling solid waste are tied together
by cost and value. There is a cost associated with the proper disposal of
trash, and when trash is handled according to EPA regulations, the tribes
can no longer afford to include that cost in their general operating budgets.
Even without a landfill, the equipment and training required to safely control
trash on the reservations is very high, forcing tribal councils to turn to fee
systems that are commonplace in communities off the reservations, but a
very new concept on many of the reservations.
Moreover, the cost of trash is a curious situation. Despite its name,
trash has potential value. Kathy Weinsaft said that the current working
figure for trash is $7/yard3 (conversation with author, January 13, 2001),
which applies each time the trash is handled. This means that in order to be

cost effective, the trash must be handled as few times as possible before
being permanently landfilled. This is an invisible cost to most people, but for
owners of a landfill, trash becomes a commodity which can generate profit if
handled correctly.
The world system assumes that ail things have an economic value
and that once that value is assessed, some entrepreneurial business person .
will see a way to make a living from exploiting that value. In traditional
Marxist philosophy, it is the value of human labor that capitalists exploit in
order to increase their capital which in turn increases their power over labor.
Instead of human labor however, in this case, the value lies in the
environment and the value conferred on it through the processes of
maintaining it (in an idealized way) in the face of the excesses of modern
society. However, Marx never saw the environment as a factor and never
foresaw a time in which the environment itself would be a commodity. He
never saw a situation in which capital limits itself by impairing its own social
and environmental conditions hence increasing the costs and expenses of
capital, thereby threatening...economic crisis (OConnor 1988:13). In short,
Marx never argued that an economic crisis and a resulting social
transformation could be caused by capitals misuse of the environment.
If capitalist economies have intrinsic ecological crisis-generating
mechanisms, it remains to be seen whether these crises, along with the

more widely recognized forms of economic crisis, can be effectively
managed by way of legislation and state interventions (Benton 1989:86).
Assuming that the trash problem is the result of ecological crisis-generating
mechanisms this is still an open-ended question. The handling of solid
waste according to RCRA in U.S. urban areas has been largely successful,
based on the fact that the process and the costs remains largely invisible to
most people. It is even mostly successful in rural areas where the
assumptions about the land, solid waste, and the regulations that control its
disposition are not questioned. The only problem in these areas is lack of
capital, and a Rural Development loan usually fixes that problem. However,
on the reservations, where the generally held view of sovereignty means not
only having land, but having the freedom to hold that land communally in
stewardship for the future, the assumptions about solid waste based on a
capitalist economy, private property, and federal regulations are difficult to
reconcile. In other words, its not just the poverty problem, its the history of
assumptions that have created and maintained poverty on the reservations;
its not that Indians require development, its that they are not allowed by
federal regulation to imagine their own ways to handle solid waste within
their own context. Even if the regulations did allow for local innovation, it is
unlikely that the reservations would have the resources to implement their
ideas. This hegemony, combined with their location on the periphery of the

world economy is the challenge that the reservations planners must try to
reconcile in their solid waste plans.
Today, this hegemony continues through notions of building
competencies on the reservations. Experts and consultants must be sent in
from federal agencies to teach people on the reservations how to write grant
proposals and plan for the infrastructure required by the regulations. The
appropriateness of the RCRA scheme is never questioned in the reservation
setting. This is most clearly seen in the complete inability of the
reservations to create viable recycling programs: with the low profit margins
in recycling, it is impossible for low-population, remote communities to set
up effective recycling programs, no matter how much the local population
desires this solution. This leaves the most expensive solution, landfilling, as
the only option.
The Value of Trash for the Core: The Cost of Trash
for the Periphery
As part of the world system, the assumptions of the U.S. economy
have been culturally and historically produced (Wallerstein 1983; Wolf 1990)
and bring with them ideologies that are often considered self-evident by the
people living within those assumptions. The regulations promulgated by

RCRA naturally abide by the cultural assumptions and productions of U.S.
capitalism and create a system in which solid waste suddenly has value.
The value has been created by policy makers and bureaucrats who,
responding to social movements, develop a consciousness that results in
regulations built within the capitalist paradigm. But as Gramsci realized, this
is not the result of idealism. Human consciousness in all its embodiments,
is not independent from the exigencies of the economic substructure, which
constitutes the active, propulsive force of history (Femia 1975:36). So,
instead of just fixing the environmental threatin this case, solid waste
being produced in unhealthy amounts and in forms that are not easily or
safely destroyeda new commodity is created which requires large
amounts of capital to address.
The cost of solid waste is easy to see and calculate: $7/yard3 each
time it is moved. But cost is not value. In Marxs terms value is the
exchange-value that an item has, or what its value is in a market setting.
The value of trash (its commodification) has been created by creating an
industry around the regulated disposal of solid waste. Although the cost of
solid waste is clear, the cash value is more difficult to assess due to a lack
of independent, authoritative, comprehensive and statistically defensible
data (Repa 2001:1). However, a recent study which attempted to address
this found that the solid waste industry generated total revenues...of $43.3

billion in 1999 (Repa 2001:2). While the profits of the largest, publicly
traded companies are available through the Securities and Exchange
Commission ((e.g., Allied Waste Industries reported $5.6 billion in revenue
in 2001 (Fickes 2002:1)), smaller, privately held companies and rural
systems profit numbers are harder to obtain. One published report from
Rowan County, NC indicated that annual profits from their solid waste facility
are between $500,000 and $700,000 annually (Burchette 2000:3). In
urban areas, the cost is largely hidden in utility fees. But in the remote,
sparsely-populated reservations of the northern plains, the cost stands out in
stark relief, despite the potential profits of a well-run solid waste facility. The
industry created by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
includes the consultants who specialize in this Act and its regulations and
advise businesses and local governments on how to comply with it, the
designers of the technology created to meet the mandates of RCRA, and
the agencies charged with inspecting and enforcing compliance. In most of
the U.S. these costs are largely covered by tax dollars, but create a
commodity with the potential for profit out of something that we all throw
away without a thought. In a large urban area, it was annoying, but fairly
straightforward to change practices and upgrade to RCRA requirements; in
locations where there was resistance to the requirements, EPA had
enforcement powers to back them up. On the reservations where there was

no infrastructure or capital to begin with and where EPA enforcement isnt
possible since the reservations do not have primacy, trying to create the
infrastructure to the highest current standards with no significant tax base
and often none of the other infrastructure that is taken for granted in urban
areas (e.g. enough trash trucks to cover the local area and adequate roads
to drive them on, not to mention adequate trash cans to put out on trash
day) has proven insurmountable.
In the U.S. today then, trash acquires value by virtue of its being an
unsightly and unhealthy challenge to the higher value placed on the
generalized environment as well as from its potential to make capital by
handling it efficiently. However, on the cash poor reservations, the cost of
trash is too high, and its value cannot be exploited by those on the periphery
of the global economy. In this way, we can see that virtually any item can
become a commodity within the world economy; however, what is most
important about commodified trash is what it illustrates about the
relationship between the world economy and a peripheral area. Trash
clearly shows how an environmental commoditys value can only be
exploited by those with the resources to take advantage of it in a situation
where citizens are willing and able to pay (those in the core), while for those
in the periphery, this commodity is just another cost to reckoned with.

All these economic factors, namely, lack of capital, creation of a new
commodity, adherence to the assumed naturalness of capitalism and the
world economy, and the creation of regulations within the capitalist system
confirm O'Connors (1988) argument that an ecological Marxist theory is
useful in understanding problems of this nature. He argues that ecological
Marxism explains why environmental programs are reactive instead of
proactive, and how proposed solutions ultimately cant work since the
technology, labor, and ideology of these programs are so based on the
capitalist model and its assumptions that they become part of the problem
(OConnor 1988:18). Moreover, the reservation communities are too
remote, both geographically and economically, to ever provoke a crisis of
Tourism and Trash
Tourism, a development ideal, is an important factor in determining
how much trash is generated by a reservation and in what time frame.
Reservations that are blessed with spectacular scenery or are considered
tourist destinations for some other reason have developed an additional
trash problemtrash generated by tourism. Tourism has been proposed as
an environmentally friendly economic stimulus package for the reservations,

but the problem is getting the tourists to come to the reservations.
Currently, there may be seasonal influxes of people during the hunting
season or for pow wows, but unlike the Navajo and Southern Ute
reservations of the Southwest, the reservations of the northern plains are
not yet tourist destinations. Despite this, most of the reservations include
developing tourism as one of their economic goals. For most on the
northern plains, this means developing facilities for hunting and fishing.
Reservations which have a regular tourist season seem more
developed than other reservations. The main towns often have cultural
centers and museums, several motels, tourist restaurants, gift shops, and
even a bank. Despite the income generated by tourists, reservations which
profit from tourist dollars are often not yet in compliance with their solid
waste disposal. Part of the problem is that the presence of tourists adds to
the solid waste problem by increasing the amount of waste; ironically,
people generate more waste as tourists than they do at home. Pricing the
fee structures on these reservations has proven extremely difficult, with both
households and businesses refusing to pay their monthly feeshouseholds
because they simply dont have the money, and businesses because they
must pay a high fee based on the amount of trash they generate in the
summer tourist months which, they argue, does not reflect the amount of
trash they generate the other 9 months of the year. Compounding this

problem is the individual reservation histories of not managing solid waste
which often results in fleets of aging trash trucks which are literally welded
back together each weekend and grants which only partially meet the costs
of the needed solid waste projects.
These problems seem familiar from the international context. Small,
developing countries are trying to capitalize on the growing tourist industry
and convert their natural resources to exotic and beautiful locations as
opposed to mining, oil drilling, or timber harvesting resources. However, the
infrastructure required to cater to most tourists is expensive to create, and
often begins another cycle of obtaining loans to build infrastructure for an
industry that doesnt always generate enough jobs or money to repay the
loan debt. This is the same dilemma the tribes face with their tourist
development plans. The challenge is to redirect resource management from
raw material extraction to tourist attraction, and to do it in a way that doesnt
create debt.
The trash generated by tourism is a current example of how difficult it
is for the reservations to escape the periphery of the world economy. Unlike
many developing countries, most reservations have never been in a
position to engage in utilitarian exchanges with the U.S. (Berthoud
1992:71). Tourism appears to be an approach to economic development
that will generate cash without bringing environmental destruction or

challenges to tribal sovereignty, but the trash the tourists leave behind only
compounds the solid waste problems on the reservations, and the cash the
tourists leave isnt enough to compensate for it.
The goal of this chapter was to show the interconnected relationship
between the trash problem and the reservations' position on the periphery of
the world economy. At one level, the ongoing trash problem is the direct
result of being on the periphery; however, at another level, the trash problem
gives us insight into the theoretical construct of core and periphery. I
wanted to show that trash is both a real-world result as well as a theoretical
I did this by examining how trash on the reservations compares to
trash in the rest of the U.S. as a measurable entity. This analysis revealed
how the waste streams on the reservations differed from those of a typical
U.S. community. The first observation is that the trash of poor communities
reflects the buying choices of people with little cash. Reservation trash is
predominately made up of the packaging that surrounds grocery and
convenience store food and disposable, one-use items such as diapers.
This showed how the reservations, as marginalized communities, have the

problem of first world trash in a third world economy. This leads inevitably to
the realization that the trash problem is the result of the simultaneous
inclusion into and exclusion from the world economy. This integration is
both a historic and current process and the important historic events that
shaped this situation were briefly examined, as was the unintended result of
the creation of the large and intrusive bureaucracy on the reservations.
Next, I explored the ironic situation of how trash has become a
commodity. This is created by assigning a value to a trash free landscape
which in turn creates a need to haul away and landfill it. An important
distinction is made between cost and value. In the core, where there are
more capital resources and the value of landscape is high, the cost of
disposing of trash is nearly invisible and regarded as an appropriate
expense. On the reservations, while the value of landscape is also high, the
cost to achieve the ideal value is too high. Additionally, the potential value
of trash cannot be exploited by individual Indians or by the reservations
since they dont have the capital resources to begin with. Since they cannot
exploit the value of their trash, they are left with only the cost of disposal.
Finally, I used tourism and the trash they generate as an example of
how new plans for economic growth never really work in the way they are
intended to. As an ideal, tourism is meant to increase jobs and pay on the
reservations and grow their economies. But, as can be seen from the

vantage of the trash they leave behind, tourist dollars are not enough to
move the reservations away from the periphery of the world economy.
In the next chapter, I will use the basic construct of the world
economy to examine the history and current effects of development on the
reservations and their trash.

The problem of development was made clear on one reservation
where the school district and the utilities department were at odds over
payment of solid waste fees. The school superintendent refused to pay the
trash bills until she had an explanation of why the bill had dramatically
increased from one month to the next. The new head of the tribal Public
Works Department was a political appointee and was not yet familiar with
the programs implemented by his predecessor and was unable to explain
the fees in a way which satisfied the school superintendent (which is why we
became involved in the discussion). As the discussion progressed, we
learned that the fees had been increased as part of the grant funded, overall
improvement of tribal utilities, and that they had been implemented without
enough lead time for the school district to plan for them. In short, the fees
required by the IHS/EPA funded programs did not coincide with the schools
funding cycle from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The superintendents
budget had been set based on the earlier fee schedule, and could not be
changed until the next BIA budget year. Once everyone understood that the

problem was due to differences in funding cycles, a new payment schedule
was easily settled. Interestingly, while the settlement of the new payment
plan was agreed upon with smiles all around, it appeared as though the
school superintendent grudgingly acknowledged that the head of Public
Works had won this diplomatic skirmish (largely by his strategic use of his
funding agencys representativea strategic positioning of the bigger gun),
but that she knew there would be future rematches. It seemed that while
she knew she had lost this round, she also had a better measure of her
brother-in-law and would be better prepared the next time. It was really a
very great relief to drive away that night.
This situation had several causes (not the least of which was the
family relationship between the school superintendent and the new head of
Public Works), but it most clearly demonstrated how the funding cycles of
each donor organization (in this case BIA, EPA, and IHS), have their own
logic based on their own missions and assumptions. Unfortunately for the
recipients of their aid, the three organizations have no relationships with
each other and no realization that their directives will conflict with each other
on the ground. Like the regulations, the directives and bureaucracy
surrounding the funding cycles from each federal agency allow no flexibility
by the recipient organizations, in this case the tribal governments.

Ironically, since the tribal government agencies have been largely
modeled on their federal counterparts, the organizational disconnects
between tribal agencies often mirror those found at the federal level. That
is, the tribal governments have order imposed on them from the federal
agencies in the name of efficiency and fiduciary responsibility, and they in
turn, impose order (for the same reasons) onto the recipients of their
services (the people living on the reservations). The type of conflict
described is therefore inevitable. Tendler (1977:109) points out that an
unintended state of dependency results for the recipients of aid, based on
the requirements of the donor organization. This leads, in this case, to the
tribal agencies being in the contradictory position of being dependant upon
the federal agencies at the same time they are creating their own imperial
behaviors toward their own service recipients.
The goal of this chapter is to examine the development paradigm and
what trash tells us about development on the reservations. Based on the
previous discussion of the world economy, I will again use trash as a
theoretical window, this time to view the development paradigm as well as
the social and economic results of that paradigm on the people of the
To do this, I will first discuss how the discourses of development
create the need for development as well as the definitions of who receives

development and the nature of that development. This discussion is based
largely on the "big picture of the relationship between knowledge and power
as outlined by Michel Foucault and elaborated on in the analysis of
development by James Ferguson and his case study of development in
Lesotho. This discussion will show how the discourse of development is
designed to perform a specific task for development itself and how that task
is used to make trash a development problem.
I will next examine how the bureaucracy uses the development
discourse to justify their own presence and power on the reservations.
While this is not an explicitly stated goal of any bureaucracy, on the
reservations, the result of the discourse has been a continual expansion of
the bureaucracy.
The next part of the discussion will focus on how the nature of
development intervention is framed by the discourse as problems resulting
from a lack of technology or infrastructure. I will examine this by examining
the rules that govern an intervention and define it as one specific kind of
problem. Interestingly, the nature the intervention also serves to expand the
scope and power of the bureaucracy through the rules it makes.
Finally, I will discuss how the development paradigm is contested in
the reservation setting through the debate surrounding the competing values
of the western scientific tradition and traditional Indian cultural values. This

debate is a result of the western values which accompany development
projects and which are imposed by those projects without questioning their
appropriateness for the culture receiving development.
Targets of Intervention
One result of the historical and ongoing process of integration into the
world economy of the reservations of the northern plains is that the definition
of the reservations as being poor, remote, and underdeveloped has made
them a target of intervention. Ferguson (1994), based on Foucaults writings
on how knowledge and power are created through language, outlines how
language, that is discourse, creates a target population in need of
development. He explains that a target population must be aboriginal, or at
least, defined as not truly incorporated into the modern world; it must be
agricultural so that the introduction of modern, technical farming methods
will improve farm outputs; it must have a national economy which makes it
an easily defined and bounded area for an intervention project; and it must
have governmentality, or a central controlling government which is seen as
impartial and fair, for the development agencies to work with (Ferguson
1994:71-72). Despite the modern American lifestyle led by many people on
the reservations, their overall lower incomes, rural and remote locations, and

the persistence of traditional culture and values continue to fit them nicely
into the category of people who require development interventions to
improve their lives, at least according to the development discourse. In this
section, I will address three things which contribute to the creation of the
need for development on the reservations and how that development is
applied to the trash problem. The first thing I wish to address is more detail
about the discourse surrounding development. Next, I will look at the
bureaucracy that comes with development interventions, and finally the
technological nature of the intervention.
In recognizing the trash problem as, in part, a result of development
on the reservations, an analysis of the discourses of that development is
required. Ferguson takes as his starting point the assumption that thinking
is as real an activity as any other, and that ideas and discourses have
important and very real social consequences... (1990:xv). The ideas and
discourses surrounding trash have social and economic consequences for
the people of the reservations, although not necessarily the ones envisioned
by the people who work to clean up the trash. In order to understand these

social and economic consequences, we must look closely at the discourses
that surround trash and trash disposal.
The discourse of development (Ferguson 1994), is not simply about
jargon. It has a specific task to achieve for development planning, and it is
necessary to understand that task in order to understand the social
consequences of interventions surrounding trash on the reservations.
Ferguson (1994) argues that the discourse used in development serves the
power and expansion of the development institutions. Returning to the
definitions of who becomes a target of intervention, these definitions can be
made to easily fit the Indians of the northern plains. It is not that the
definitions are lies or even necessarily incorrect, but if the starting
assumption is that Indians are poor people (easily seen in the Census data),
and that poor people require development to increase their material wealth,
it is easy to conclude that Indians are underdeveloped and require
development projects. Once a problem is approached without questioning
the need for a development intervention, the discourse that defines who
needs intervention fits any population easily. Since the assumptions about
development itself are not questioned, the resulting need for a development
intervention is also never questioned. This is the task of the development
discourseto make the need for development seem so obvious that it is
never questioned. Another outcome of this task is that the development

institutions control the discourse, and therefore, control how a problem is
defined and who is qualified to solve the problem which then controls
which solutions are possible and viable.
With the discourse functioning to create a target population, the next
step is to define trash as a problem that must be solved with an intervention.
In this case, trash is constructed as an object of knowledge, and a
structurean institution with a planis built around that object (Ferguson
1990:xiv). As we have seen, it is easy to make trash an object of knowledge
since it is easy to quantify and characterize it. Assuming that to understand
the physical character and amounts of something is the first step to solving
the problem, it seems natural and normal to those who are charged with
solving the problem to analyze and quantify trash. It is in this natural step
that trash becomes an object of knowledge that requires only a
technological and monetary fix. Moreover, the discourse as outlined by
Ferguson (1994:71-72) of who requires development intervention is easily
applied to the Indian population and is not questioned. The Indians have a
trash problem that they have not solved. They require help from an outside
agency because they are the descendents of aboriginal people and still cling
to some traditional values; many Indians (in this case) are engaged in
agriculture as either a primary or at least secondary occupation; as
sovereign nations, they have their own tribal governments and economies;

and the tribal governments obviously want to.impartially increase
development on the reservations to help their people. Therefore, trash on
the reservations is not just an environmental problem that the tribal
governments must address according to RCRA; it has become a problem
that can only be solved with help in the form of a development intervention
from outside institutions, in this case, federal agencies (EPA and IHS among
others), that have the technology and expertise to solve the problem.
The Bureaucracy
The bureaucracy which already exists on the reservations and which
is the result of the process of integration into the world economy can be
seen as a result of the long history of development on the reservations.
Even before the development discourse as we know it today emerged, the
Indians were a people who required development to improve their material
lives and move into the modern, capitalist world economy.
One aspect of this is the paternalistic nature of the discourse which
appears subtly in the language of the bureaucracy. The discourse is built on
concepts that include building competencies and capacity building, both
of which imply that tribal employees and Indians in general are incapable of
imagining or creating viable solutions to their (solid waste) problems. In

part, this arises from the fundamental reality that the government agencies
that put money toward projects on the reservations have all the power in this
situation. This power relationship ultimately overshadows all relationships
that are created in the process of addressing a development project. The
discourse of development tends to minimize this power relationship by
focusing on the services that are provided to the recipients of aid, but it may.
be at least as appropriate to think of services which serve to govern
(Ferguson 1994:253). Seen in this way, the paternalistic language serves to
justify the consequence of imposing more federal control on the
Ferguson argues (after Foucault) that instead of looking at
development projects as projects to increase material wealth, or in this case,
to solve an environmental problem, they would be more appropriately looked
at as the means to increase the size and power of the bureaucracy
(1994:254-256). I do not mean to suggest that this is a conscious effort on
the part of the bureaucracies or the people who work on development
projects. However, since "development projects have been ongoing on the
reservations since the beginning of the reservation system (albeit under
different names and policies as historical sensibilities change), and the
reservations remain among the poorest areas in the U.S., one is forced to
ask why the reservations have yet to become developed. It appears that,

like with the law, ignorance of the process of development does not excuse
guilt, especially when expansion and entrenchment of state power (is the)
principle effect (Ferguson 1994:255) as Ferguson found to be the case in
Lesotho. There is an unquestioned (and I suspect an often unrecognized)
assumption within the policy makers of the federal bureaucracy, that the end
goal of a fully operational solid waste system that adheres to all EPA and
IHS regulations would be a significant step toward making the reservations
the same as the rest of rural America. In short, to be fully assimilated.
However, the larger unquestioned and unrecognized goal is that the main
purpose of a bureaucracy, no matter what its stated mission is, quickly
becomes the expansion of its own size and power. The next section will
look more closely at the rules which ensure this expansion.
The Nature of the Intervention
The discourse of the bureaucracies creates the definitions of the
targets of intervention, but it also creates the rules by which an intervention
project must function. In this discussion of the development paradigm, I use
rules to represent the limits and constraints imposed on an intervention by
the agencies and their bureaucracies. In this case, the discourse and its
rules are tied to funding and to the solid waste regulations. This means that

the solid waste problem is framed only as a technological or administrative
problem. While the problem certainly requires a technical solution for the
safe disposal of modern trash, the project rules ultimately help the
bureaucracies expand and entrench themselves by designing projects that
fail, or more specifically in this case, are never completely solved.
One of the most important rules in this case is how solid waste
planning on the reservations is built into the intervention since the nature of
the development discourse as it is applied to the solid waste problem on the
reservations is directly tied to funding cycles created by the government
agencies themselves. Each cycle, there is a pot of money that proposals
may be submitted for. The money is limited, and the amount varies with
administration and economic circumstances; it is also disbursed by IHS and
EPA administrative areas (which are not the same thingssee Figure 3.1),
which pits all the northern plains reservations against each other for funding.
In this scheme, the projects are funded piecemeal, each project getting a
few more pieces of what is necessary to adequately handle solid waste.
This scheme also creates situations in which the employees and
contractors of EPA have very different goals than the employees and
contractors of IHS (this can be especially unnerving for those who are
funded by IHS to implement EPA regulations). In other words, the goals of
good solid waste management as defined by IHS may not be the same as

Figure 3.1 EPA Region 8 including the 19 federally recognized reservations
(lighter shaded areas). For the northern plains states, IHS operates the
Aberdeen Area, serving North & South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, and the
Billings area, which serves Montana and Wyoming. From
EPAs goals, especially since IHS controls most funding while EPA controls
compliance. The result is a small amount of money on any given
reservation being spent on a piece of a solid waste plan that walks the line
between meeting the IHS goals of addressing the improvement of
reservation health concerns while at the same time meeting EPAs goals of
a good faith effort toward a solid waste system that is in compliance with
RCRA. The result of this tension is that the trash problem is never solved
and the bureaucracy concerned with trash continues to be entrenched on
the reservations. To all outward appearances however, the trash problem
isnt solved because IHS doesnt have the money to solve the problem, not

because it is in the interest of the bureaucracy to never solve themselves
out of a job.
The other important rule focuses on the regulations (which read
largely as a technical manual) promulgated by EPA. The regulations by
their nature define the problem in such a technical way, that only experts
can design and implement solutions to meet the requirements. Even if a
reservation has an EPA-trained expert on solid waste issues, the training is
done within the assumptions and discourse of EPA, and so the tribal expert
often doesnt question the assumptions. The expert knows that the
regulations must be met, so a baler one year and a truck the next year
meets the practical need of working toward a solid waste system at the
same time that it meets the tribal governments need to appear to be making
the best effort towards meeting the requirements of RCRA. In other words,
an expert does not need to come from the outside in order to serve the
primary interests of the bureaucracies (in this case, both federal and tribal)
and their discourses.
By analyzing the development paradigm in separate pieces I have
attempted to follow Fergusons lead and vivisect the ideas that drive the

development discourse on the reservations and understand what effects
these ideas have on the lives of the people who live there (Ferguson
This approach has highlighted a very important issue, namely that the
history of integration into the world economy on the reservations has been
consistently enmeshed with the history of development interventions. This
history has had important social and economic consequences for the people
of the reservations. The economic consequences of being on the periphery
of the world economy were discussed in the last chapter, but there are other
economic consequences as well. The expansion and entrenchment of the
bureaucracy since the beginning of the reservation system has resulted in
bureaucracy, either tribal or federal, being the main employment industry on
the reservations. While there are jobs available for Indians in the
bureaucracy, they are either low paying jobs with no career path (such as
administrative positions), or they are higher level jobs which require
advanced education. This does not leave many employment options since
once a position is filled, it is likely to stay filled until the individual retires.
This results in low turnover in federally funded bureaucratic jobs (as
opposed to tribal appointments which turn over more frequently) and few
opportunities on the reservations by the main employment sector. The lack
of jobs by the main employer forces others into seasonal, low paying jobs

and jobs off the reservations as discussed by Pickering (2002). This results
in lives that are dominated by a bureaucracy which doesnt reciprocate by
providing enough jobs for the people. Ironically, the bureaucracy whose
mission is designed to improve the lives of the people on the reservations
actually increases their position on the periphery and ensures that their
development never arrives.
Contested Realities and Alternative Approaches
A problem that tribal development shares with international
development is that the solid waste problem is only defined from the western
scientific method. This limited perspective on the problem only allows for
certain, delimited solutions to be considered. However, even if individuals
propose better solutions, they are locked-in by regulations and funding
One of the assumptions of western culture, and specifically U.S.
culture in this case, is that the scientific outlook and its resulting technology
is a natural and inevitable part of development and civilization. Certainly in
the early development approach taken towards the reservations, it was
assumed that once the technology of farming was introduced, the rest of
civilization would quickly and inevitably follow. Technology, it was believed,

would not only amplify material progress, it would also confer upon it a
sense of direction and significance (Escobar 1995:36). Now, despite the
adoption of modern farming technologies and all the other technologies that
accompany modern life, the reservations remain underdeveloped. This
contradiction can only be explained by examining the cultural values that
accompany technology.
Technology is seen by many as capable of solving anything, and
technical virtuosity is admired in and of itself. These values are so strong
among many scientists and engineers that problems are often immediately
defined in technological terms and technical solutions are sought regardless
of the true nature of the issue (James 2001:47). This is a result of the
unquestioned cultural values that accompany technology and the
unquestioned naturalness of those values. Unfortunately, within the applied
technological disciplines that work in development (such as the engineers
and chemists that design and implement current landfill technologies), there
has been little or no demonstrated understanding that there are cultural
values associated with technologies. Moreover, there has been no
questioning of the assumption that people who are not of the western
scientific tradition do not have a logical and rational, even scientific historical
tradition and natural science of their own. The solid waste dilemma allows
insight into this problem.

One of the most basic cultural assumptions of modern science is that
to be the person who decides the most appropriate technology and
participates in the regulatory decisions that will shape future projects and
plans, one must have an advanced degree in the appropriate field. This
creates a dilemma for Indians who want to apply their expertise and
experiences to a problem on their reservation, but their knowledge is not
recognized as being in the appropriate field to participate. This means that
the reservations are at the mercy of not just the funding assumptions of the
bureaucracies, but also the scientific and technological assumptions, both of
which are imposed from the western cultural paradigm where the most
important assumption of both is that the ongoing lack of development on the
reservations is due to the perseverance of traditional cultures. Despite this,
Indian scientists have visions...of a distinctly Indian version of those fields
or of how those technologies could be applied to promise better results for
Indian and non-Indian people (James 2001a:109). Instead, traditional
cultural values are blamed for the lack of material progress made on the
reservations (Pickering 2002).
The traditional values of the American Indians have always focused
on caring for the environment to protect it for the next seven generations
(Goes in Center 2001:120). This long-term approach has only recently
begun to enter the consciousness of the bureaucracies. The advent of

digital data sets, geographic information, and remote sensing technologies
promotes long-term perspectives by providing the ability to apply
prescriptive means to a goal through analytical research" (Goes in Center
2001:120). While this information based on new technology appears
exciting and forward thinking to the development scientists and bureaucrats,
it appears to the Indians as though the mainstream has just caught on to a
basic truth. Indeed, in chaos science and in other topics and approaches,
Western science is finally beginning to understand and value the
connectedness of the world (Kawageley 2001:55). Many Indians do not see
that science as defined by the Western paradigm, specifically excludes
their observations, but rather: as in Western science, there had to be long
and patient observations to build knowledge and theories based on distilled
experience with events. That knowledge and those theories are handed
down to us in our mythology, our stories, and our proverbs (Kawageley
2001:53). These competing visions of what science is adds to the confusion
on the reservations about what solutions are possible, both scientifically
possible and bureaucratically possible. This debate about whose science is
more valid and more appropriately used on the reservations adds to the
delays that slow any environmentally based development project, including
projects aimed at solving the solid waste problem.