Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2021


In this paper, I discuss the unethical nature of modern American waste systems and individual practices, focusing on the benefits of adopting elements of indigenous land care ethics. Specifically, I discuss the opportunities for sustainable improvement found in the Lakota perspective of humans’ relationship with the land, such as the frugality epitomized in their hunting, harvesting, and material culture. Lakotan environmental consciousness is ultimately owing to the centrality of their spiritual convictions and traditions, which are, of course, not replicable in the non-indigenous Western context; although we will certainly never be able to understand nor internalize the heart of Lakota spirituality—as this kind of understanding is fostered through a truly holistic immersion and upbringing—we would do well to learn from their ethics of care and kinship. I believe it is possible to distill elements of Lakota spirituality to their more tangible ethical components. For example, the Lakota are aware of the natural world’s regenerative character, which contributes to their characteristic conservation and discouragement of wastefulness. They seem to understand that although nature is regenerative, this renewal is stifled by anthropogenic wastes and human carelessness. This understanding informs their ethics of land care, as they seek to take only as much as they need and nothing more. This is, of course, juxtaposed against the American tendency to horde and accumulate, and eventually throw away without consideration for these actions’ consequences; due to a fundamental disconnect from our waste streams and waste management systems, Americans’ failure to recognize the unethical nature of their lifestyle results in the 239 million tons of municipal waste produced an annually. Ultimately, this paper explores the ways in which Lakota land care ethics is a reflection of their innermost spirituality, as well as the ways in which these ethics might be applied to the American waste crisis.


Winner of the 2021 Prindle Prize for Ethics in the Humanities.



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