South Dakota has an interesting poverty narrative. While the word poverty gets thrown around a lot, nothing forces you to face the ways in which we see, experience and speak about poverty like living on a reservation.
While I was born in one of the poorest counties in the nation, on one of the poorest reservations in the nation, I then lived on the other side of the state as a young adult. The general level of affluence in Eastern South Dakota (or East River as most South Dakotans call it), coupled with it being a place where people (despite a couple reservations over there) sorta forget that reservations and Indians even exist, makes even a tribal member like me deal with some culture-shock in moving back to a reservation community as a 30-year-old mother used to experiencing daily miles of prettified lawns and streetscapes.
Even though I know most of the ‘pretty’ lawns I’m used to looking at are an environmental disaster in their own right with huge inputs of chemicals, potable water and lack of truly beneficial ecological outcomes, comparisons between there and here have given me some interesting insights.
All these various factors have been rolling around in my mind for the past six months, at least, if not the entire year, since moving, like a pebble being tossed by a fast moving stream. I think it’s time for me to layout a few of these observations.
Before I do so, though, a little history about lawns. The idea of a lawn has been discussed much lately as a way for our European, especially English, ancestors to prove they were noble (or laster, the aspiring merchant class) and not ‘poor.’
How did a lawn prove that? It proved that quite literally they needn’t use all their land in growing food. They could afford the luxury of leaving land untilled, unlike those cottagers down the road, using everyspace available and like Dickon in “The Secret Garden,” only adding such flowers as were ‘easy’ for poor people to cultivate-needing little space and time.
In the next couple posts, I’m going to look at the true poverty excessive lawn creates, how feeling (and being) poor can inhibit sustainable living and how overly prudent sustainable living can aggravate generational poverty.
We all must start asking the hard, unsettling and uncomfortable questions about why we are failing at living more sustainablty in our region. I believe that our conditioned responses to the various facets of the poverty narrative has something to do with that.
We must force ourselves to get over our knee-jerk reactions and learn to tell different stories and subvert the poverty narrative that is destroying our families, communities and this land.