Garbage

The Campo Indian Reservation:

"Map of the Campo Indian Reservation, Established 1893," Campo Kumeyaay Nation Website, Image Link.
“Map of the Campo Indian Reservation, Established 1893,” Campo Kumeyaay Nation Website, Image Link.

The location of the Campo Indian reservation is approximately “seventy miles east of San Diego.”[1] The unemployment rate for the tribe was 79%, and “most of those who did have jobs made less than $7,000.[2] At the time of this case, the Campo Tribe had about 300 members total.[3]Additionally, San Diego County has “more Indian reservations than any other county in the United States.”[4] At the time of the proposal for the Campo Indian landfill, there were already “three commercial waste projects under serious consideration,” on other reservations.[5]

The Campo Indian Landfill War:

The Campo Indian case of environmental justice portrays a deeper examination of environmental justice. In 1987, the Campo Indian Tribe “began to consider developing a commercial landfill on their reservation.”[6] The landfill seemed economically promising to the Campo Tribe as a way move the tribe out of poverty.[7] The landfill “could receive as much as 3,000 tons of waste per day, and given its capacity of 28 million tons, could continue at that rate for 30 years,” which could potentially amount to about $3 million a year for the Campo Tribe.[8]

Book Cover for the book, The Campo Indian Landfill War, by former head of the EPA in the region that this case took place. Image Link.
Cover for the book, The Campo Indian Landfill War, by former head of the EPA in the region that this case took place. Image Link.

The forces of opposition to this landfill proposal came from the primarily white neighbors and the environmental justice community who saw this as an environmental racism case targeting and exploiting the Native American tribe and threatening their health.[9] The concern was that the landfill “might contaminate the aquifer that is the sole source of drinking water for 400 square miles.”[10] These concerns were elevated when the EPA cautioned that fractures in the land itself could actually further contamination of “common household hazardous wastes as paint thinner and herbicide” from getting into the groundwater.[11] The fact that this contestation is because of fears of water contamination, reflects the perceived importance of water for health and life itself.

In several ways, this pushback from the neighbors and environmental justice community minimized the Tribe’s sense of agency in being able to develop a successful means of operating and regulating the landfill in a way that protects the environment.[12] While, the Campo Tribe was willing to “admit the danger of exploitation,” they also felt that “it is paternalistic – indeed racist – to assume that Indians are not smart enough to protect themselves in dealings with whites or wise enough to guard their reservation environment.”[13]This case study involves a different water related perspective that challenges many people trying to follow mainstream aspects of environmental justice. This case reveals the complexities of environmental justice cases as well as the harm of stereotypes based on assumptions about what a marginalized community wants, should want, or is capable of.

The Ecological Indian:

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“Keep America Beautiful’s famous 1971 Ad Campaign,” Learning Historical Research, Image Link.

The Ecological Indian is defined by the image of Native Americans, commonly presented as the “Crying Indian”, as being associated with ecology and conservation.[14] The image of the “Crying Indian” was used in the 1971 environmental campaign against pollution and spread through multiple media sources.[15] While, this image flooded the 1970s environmental movement, it also reinforced “the fundamental differences between the way Americans of European descent and Indians think about and relate to land and resources.”[16] The message that this image portrayed was that white Americans were the ones to start polluting the environment and the “Crying Indian,” “shed a tear for land and resources, which, by implication, he and other Indians treated kindly and prudently (as conservators might) and understood ecologically.”[17]

In the book, The Ecological Indian, the author, Shepard Krech III, discusses the history of the Ecological Indian, as well as the impact it has had on environmentalism. Krech also looks at how the Ecological Indian further perpetuates assumptions and stereotypes that label Native Americans in a way that homogenizes their identity. The book analyzes two themes that can be related to water: ecology and conservation. Krech discusses the broad range of definitions used for these themes and addresses major questions, such as how images of the Ecological Indian reflect Native American ideas from a historical perspective.  Just because this relationship between Native Americans and the environment is what is dominant throughout mainstream discourse, does not necessarily imply that they are inherent. Krech states that embedded in these concepts of environmentalism, “are certain cultural premises about the meaning of humanity, nature, animate, inanimate, system, balance, and harmony, and their suitability for indigenous American Indian thought or behavior should not be taken as a given.”[18]

An understanding of the Ecological Indian is especially relevant to the Campo Indian landfill case. This case reflects an instance where the Campo Indian Tribe’s definition of environmentalism greatly differed from the mainstream environmental justice movement. Because of the surrounding perceptions of white Americans of the relationship between Native Americans and the environment, this case presented a time when the mainstream tried to define what was considered “Indian” and “Non-Indian,” versus following the premise of self-determination and trusting that the Campo Tribe understood the environmental concerns that developing a landfill could bring. An understanding of the Ecological Indian is relevant to the topic of Native American water justice because it helps to holistically assess the many Native Americans’ relationship to water and land, without making broad assumptions based on stereotypes.

 


[1] McGovern, Dan, “The Battle Over The Environmental Impact Statement In The Camp Indian Landfill War,” West-Northwest, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Sept. 1995): 145.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Indian Reservations in San Diego County,” San Diego Native American, Accessed 9 December 2016, Website Link.

[5] McGovern, Dan, “The Battle Over The Environmental Impact Statement In The Camp Indian Landfill War,” West-Northwest, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Sept. 1995): 147.

[6] Ibid, 145.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] McGovern, Dan, The Campo Indian Landfill War: The Fight for Gold in California’s Garbage, (Norman, Oklahoma: Oklahoma University Press, 1995): Cover Summary.

[10] McGovern, Dan, “The Battle Over The Environmental Impact Statement In The Camp Indian Landfill War,” West-Northwest, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Sept. 1995): 145.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] McGovern, Dan, The Campo Indian Landfill War: The Fight for Gold in California’s Garbage, (Norman, Oklahoma: Oklahoma University Press, 1995): Cover Summary.

[14] Krech, Shepar, The Ecological Indian, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999), 16.

[15] Ibid, 15.

[16] Ibid, 16.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid, 22.