Trash challenge impacts Crow Reservation communities

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Photo by Gary Rood

A fire burns at the Wyola trash dump site in mid-May. Republic Services had ceased their garbage pickup contract with the Crow Tribe during the summer of 2016, due to nonpayment, but restarted the partnership when the tribe began to repay the debt.

The Crow Reservation has a problem – a trash problem.

Nearly all canisters operated by Republic Services at dump sites on reservation towns including Crow Agency, Wyola, Pryor and Saint Xavier have reached max capacity at least once. This means Republic could not swap the full canisters out for empty ones. In recent weeks, only one of four canisters in Crow Agency could be taken in for disposal, as the others were past capacity.

“That does happen quite often, to be honest with you, and we’re trying to figure out a way to work with the tribe to get some equipment down there and get those sites completely clean,” said Chad Bauer, a representative for Republic. “Hopefully, they can keep them clean going forward.”

According to Bauer, Republic has been in talks with the Crow Tribe regarding garbage pile-up for the past four months “when [the tribe] came across their financial hardship.” The company had discontinued services to the reservation in the summer of 2016, due to nonpayment, but restarted them when the tribe began paying back the debt.

Bauer said the Crow Tribe and Republic now have a good business relationship, and they have a mutual understanding of the current situation.

Because of the trash problem, people in some reservation communities have set fire to the canisters and surrounding garbage in an effort to clear it out. These fires have led to large amounts of water being used to douse the flames.

Due to these high water demands, a fire at the Wyola dump site was left to burn for nearly three days in mid-May with little supervision. Residents in the area dealt not only with the fire danger, but also potential smoke inhalation.

This, however, is not the only way local residents have dealt with the situation. In both Crow Agency and Wyola, cleanups were organized to reduce the amount of garbage. Wyola’s dump site had become an “eyesore,” town resident Patricia Driftwood said, adding that “with only two canisters, it will not accommodate Wyola and the surrounding areas.”

“Do you remember the commercial about the Indian chief, who was crying because of the trash?” she said. “Well, he won’t be just shedding a few drops…now, it will be a river of tears.”

As for the Town of Lodge Grass, located between Crow Agency and Wyola, their official dump site is no longer serviced by Big Horn County due to lack of payment. Residents continue to dump trash at an unofficial site near the area’s rodeo grounds, which continues to pile up across at least a square mile of hillside.

Lodge Grass residents also have the option to pay Republic a monthly fee for placing small canisters by their homes that are emptied every Friday.

BethYana Pease, a community organizer and Lodge Grass alderman, believes the problem may have become too large for her community to handle on its own.

“My opinion about it is that we are going to need to call the [Environmental Protection Agency],” she said of the site. “There are a lot of diabetics, there are a lot of druggies, so there are probably a lot of needles. So nobody can go in there; we’re going to have to use heavy equipment.”


Upcoming Events