On Tuesday, I went out to Mahwah, New Jersey to visit MEVO (Mahwah Environmental Volunteer Organization) and get more footage for my final project, as well as to see first-hand the work they were doing regarding the illegal dumping on Stag Hill.
I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Ramapough Lenapee Community Center and speak to and interview Chief Dwaine Perry regarding the tribe, and about the illegal dumping on Stag Hill. I have known about the environmental impacts of the dumping, as well as the undoubtedly negative nature of the dumping in the first place, but I didn’t know as much about how it is affecting the tribe specifically and their daily lives.
I was shocked by what I learned. Though I knew that this was partially a product of people’s disregard for the environment and the land around them, I didn’t realize how much this was also a problem of oppression and disregard for a group of people who have been living on that very land for hundreds of years. Much of this problem is rooted in a deep history of colonialism and discrimination. I learned that up until about 70 years ago, there was no one other than natives living on the mountain. Yet, after they brought people up, they saw that those very people began trying to push them out. Many of the tribe members say that this is partially the reason for the illegal dumpings – people believe if they dump enough trash on the tribe’s land and by their homes, they will not want to live there anymore.
Unfortunately, what I saw was that before MEVO came in and formed a relationship with the tribe to help them with cleaning up Stag Hill and bridging a gap between community officials, there was no legal enforcement or interest in the issue of the illegal dumping. The tribe members as well as other non-natives have called the cops several times about the issue, but they aren’t very responsive and say that they can’t do anything about it if they don’t see it happening.
Source: Max LaRocco
There is the problem of the illegal dumping ruining the land, but there is also an added problem of many people coming to the mountain and in the woods for off-roading. This is bad for the environment and also bad for those who are living on Stag Hill. This also ruins the beautiful trails throughout the forest that are intended for hikers – at least hikers who have respect for the land.
The former chief of the Ramapough Lenapee Nation, Walt Van Dunk, who lives on Stag Hill, said that people come with truckloads of trash and tires all day from 2 P.M. to 8 P.M., then again starting at 3 A,M. in the morning. Aside from the fact that this is a disturbance to the chief’s life and home, it also has harmful effects on his health – as well as the health of all the people living on Stag Hill, because of the many toxins and chemicals that are being dumped onto the land. Every time he comes home, his car and the inside of his house are covered in dirt.
Yet, most of the people I met believed that the problem can be reversed and that one day in hopefully the near future, the land can be restored to its former beauty. MEVO and the volunteers – especially young students from the surrounding communities – have cleaned up a lot of Stag Hill and continue to deal with the problem every day. The Ramapough Lenapee Nation and MEVO have formed greater ties with the community and hope that they can get more policy change and enforcement by working with the police community in Mahwah to get more patrolling on Stag Hill. They also plan to get some cameras – as has been discussed and suggested in other areas where illegal dumpings have been occurring – to put up so that they can actually catch people doing the dumpings, perhaps get some license plates and faces, and make sure that people are punished for their crimes.
Though seeing the dumping in person especially can be discouraging, and upsetting, I was glad to see that there is so much hope for the problem to be fixed. I was impressed and inspired by the work MEVO is doing to clean up Stag Hill and put an end to the illegal dumpings. What MEVO is doing is part of a much larger problem across the nation, and their work is a model and testament to the fact that something can be done, and there are people who are willing to put in whatever it takes to make sure that these problems are solved.
Action must be taken now, because the problem will only get worse. We have the power to change this though, but we have to get up and take the step to help solve the issue and save our planet however we can.