Community cleanup effort returns to Kaktovik
Hundreds of bags of trash picked up and a handful of junk vehicles dragged off. That's the resume of the Our Land Community Cleanup Initiative, a locally-driven grassroots group dedicated to beautifying the land of the North Slope.
"Our people have always provided for ourselves, for our families and our communities, in the areas that were immediately surrounding us. In recent decades, that provision has become more centralized, to where efforts to further or better our communities are now expected to come from Utqiaġvik, or our region's central hub," said organizer Cordelia Qiġnaaq Kellie. "However, with our generation, there is energy to decentralize that provision and encourage efforts to come from the ground up, starting at the local level."
Last year, the group, founded by Jaden Nethercott and his partners, Kellie, Abel Hopson-Suvlu, and Tennessee Judkins, hosted a massive town cleanup in Utqiaġvik.
Dozens of volunteers and several local sponsors, including corporations and government agencies, helped put together a weeklong series of events that culminated in the trashing of more than 800 giant plastic bags of refuse collected around town.
"Our Land began last summer, in 2016, and the focus was the community of Utqiaġvik because that's where Tennessee, Jaden, Abel, and I were," explained Kellie. "Additionally, being here, there was just a number of vehicles around town, a lot of trash around town, and the community was in need of a deep cleaning."
However, the group always had their sights set on moving beyond the hub community.
"We always had an idea that this could be something that could go throughout the communities," she said. "We had also heard from a number of people in the communities that this was something they were interested in, as well."
Hopson-Suvlu was the representative who traveled to Kaktovik last year, after being invited by the village to come try out a cleanup in that area, following the success of the larger event.
"Because we're just such a small team, we've always been of the mind it's important for the community to really want it and for the community to really be backing such efforts," Kellie said. "So, this year is a return to last year's effort. Kaktovik reached out and the role we get to play is helping coordinate with community members, with the borough resources that are needed to do a cleanup, and different logistics like that. We also help with advertising and getting the message out."
Kellie will be the one to travel to the village this year. Members of the community are invited to come out and participate in the cleanup, which will take place Thursday afternoon, Aug. 10, and all day Friday, Aug. 11.
The event will start at 3 p.m. Thursday and organizers will help locals figure out how to tackle the major cleanup the next day. At 6 p.m. there will be a community barbecue. People interested in getting rid of any old vehicles can also find out more about the borough's vehicle removal program this first afternoon.
Then, on Friday, the daylong cleanup will start at 9 a.m. People can pick up plastic trash bags, gloves, and other supplies from organizers and then head out around town to pick up trash. The town cleanup will go until about 3 p.m. and the event will culminate with another community barbecue at 6 p.m.
"There's a saying that 'Nothing about us, without us, is for us,' and encouraging it to come from the communities, if they also wish do an Our Land clean up event, ensures that it's something that the community really wants," Kellie said. "We are just very encouraging of local community efforts, and are willing to provide our capacity to meet communities where they are with regards to this project."
For that reason, if any other communities are interested in learning more about hosting an Our Land cleanup in their town, they can get in touch with the Our Land organizers at any time, Kellie said.
More information can be found on the Our Land Community Cleanup Initiative Facebook page which is www.facebook.com/ourlandtoday/.