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2018-08-09 / Front Page

Lakota Woman Presents “Wateca” Challenge to Save Environment

BY JIM KENT
LCT CORRESPONDENT


“Wateca Challenge Starter Kits” are available for those who’d like to focus on returning to a traditional lifestyle of protecting Mother Earth when attending functions where food is served. Photo courtesy Carle Rae Marshall “Wateca Challenge Starter Kits” are available for those who’d like to focus on returning to a traditional lifestyle of protecting Mother Earth when attending functions where food is served. Photo courtesy Carle Rae Marshall RAPID CITY, S.D. – If you’re going to express concern about saving the water, and its sacredness, you need to start with that next plastic bottle of Evian you buy. That’s Carla Rae Marshall’s view, and that’s why she created the “Wate a Challenge”.

“The idea came to me about 7 yearsago,”explainedtheCheyenne River Sioux tribal citizen and long-time activist. “I noticed going to pow wows, meetings, wakes and other gatherings where food was being served, that people weren’t being responsible to Mother Earth. One thing I saw was a lot of paper products and especially Styrofoam being used. And I remembered our grandmothers taking their own dishes. Traditionally we always took our own dishes. We made our own dishes, when the buffalo were plentiful. We had our own spoons and bowls. So, everything our ancestors used was biodegradable and would go back to the Earth.”


Carla Rae Marshall created the “Wateca Challenge” after observing how frequently single-use plastics and Styrofoam products are used at tribal functions.Photo courtesy Carle Rae Marshall Carla Rae Marshall created the “Wateca Challenge” after observing how frequently single-use plastics and Styrofoam products are used at tribal functions.Photo courtesy Carle Rae Marshall Marshall’s goal is to bring back that awareness of Mother Earth, and of her ancestors’ accepted practice of keeping the environment clean in as many small ways as possible, to people as consumers in the 21st century.

“Especially in our Native communities, our Native ceremonies and meetings,” she observed.

After finding an enamel plate and bowl she liked at a secondhand store, Marshall began carrying them to gatherings where she knew there would be food.


The “Wateca Challenge” is an initiative aimed at moving away from the use of single-use plastics and Styrofoam. Image courtesy Carle Rae Marshall The “Wateca Challenge” is an initiative aimed at moving away from the use of single-use plastics and Styrofoam. Image courtesy Carle Rae Marshall “And people would say to me in the chow line “Oh, I remember my grandmother used to do that.”

Marshall remembers hearing that pre-colonization Lakota people received their dishes at a young age and were responsible for them for a lifetime. Their wooden bowl, buffalo horn spoon and water bladder bag were extremely personal and protected sacred items to them.

“Those were yours,” she explained. “They were made in prayer, because everything we made as Indigenous people, as Lakota people, we made in prayer.”

These items had spirit and blessed the food that they held. They took care of that person’s physical being just as the “cannupa’” or sacred pipe, took care of their spiritual well-being.


“Trash gathering spots” such as this on reservations across the state are generally composed of plastic products that won’t break down for 500 years. Photo by Carle Rae Marshall “Trash gathering spots” such as this on reservations across the state are generally composed of plastic products that won’t break down for 500 years. Photo by Carle Rae Marshall “That is why our grandmothers remembered to carry their own dishes to wate a,” Marshall commented. “It is historical DNA memory, and an honor to receive food.”

Marshall hopes that Lakota people will start seeing that thought process, get away from using single use plastics or Styrofoam, and return to bringing their own dishes and cups with them for “wate a” when they attend any sort of gathering where food might be served to them.

“Wate a” combines two Lakota words, observed Marshall: “teca” means “new” and “wa” is “the act of doing something”.

“I remember years ago I heard when the IRA government first came into play and said “you have to move out of this mud-stucco house, or this wall tent you’re living in, because we’re going to build you houses,” she shared. “They called that ‘wate a’ because it’s the act of doing something new. But now wate a has transitioned into meaning that we bring food home, whether from a ceremony or from a gathering. We’re bringing new food into the house.”

Simply put, “Wate a Challenge” is an initiative to prompt people in rural areas and especially Native Americans on reservations, to move away from the consumerism practice of plastics and Styrofoam and return to the reusable, or biodegradable, items once used by their ancestors.

“Styrofoam eating containers cannot be recycled and will last for up to a thousand years in a landfill,” Marshall commented. “Plastics take 500 years or more to break down by Photodegradation and then it’s micro plastics that continue to pollute/ contaminate land and water. All this stuff we’re putting on Mother Earth isn’t going away. We are being the contributors of the pollution, so this is our legacy. Recycling efforts on our reservation have been lacking at tribal and rural municipal levels.”

Recalling a meeting she recently attended, Marshall noted how ice water bottles provided by the gathering’s organizers to help attendees fight the hot weather were taken outside by some of the youth and stamped on them so the tops would pop off.

“They were using them as ‘gushers’ or something,” observed Marshall. “And I thought, here we are trying to protect water and we’ve got kids who are wasting it. Take your own water with you. Organizers shouldn’t have to provide cups and plates for us. We should be providing that ourselves. We need to take responsibility for who we are, as a people.”

The same applies for ceremonies.

“I don’t want to get down on people going to ceremonies,” Marshall noted. “But at the same time, if people go to a ceremony and pray for Mother Earth and protecting the water and then come out and eat the meal that’s served on Styrofoam plates; the way I look at it is ‘Did you just x out your prayers?”

In order to help people get started with a shift in their habits, Marshall has created “Wate a Challenge Starter Kits” that consist of biodegradable plates, bowls, wooden flatware, 3 sizes of reusable bees-wax food wraps and a flour sack towel - all tucked in a homemade burlap-carrying bag.

According to the South Dakota Dept of Energy and Natural Resources, there are only about 12 communities in the state that recycle.

“We need to be more mindful about what we’re consuming,” Marshall advised, “what we’re consuming with and what the consequences are of our choices.”

Referencing “the 4 r’s” of the recycling movement: reduce, reuse, recycle and recover, Marshall remarked that the most important “r” – respect, a primary Lakota virtue, must always be part of the equation when considering Mother Earth.

For more information on the Wate a Challenge, go to: https://www.facebook.com/HonoringOurGrandmother/

For more information on recycling in South Dakota, go to: http://denr.sd.gov/dfta/wwf/swmp/swmp. aspx#Solid

Jim Kent can be reached at kentvfte@gwtc.net

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