Student begins 95-mile roadside cleanup

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

CHINLE, June 28, 2012

(Times photo - Glenda Rae Davis)

Dallas Peterman, right, stands with his fiancé;, Sierra Yazzie, center, and volunteer Jennifer Pasena, left, alongside Route 64 on June 21. Peterman's group is picking up trash from Tsaile, Ariz., to Kayenta.

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O n June 18, with a trash bag in hand and a desire for change, Dallas Peterman, 18, began a 95-mile roadside cleanup.

He is walking along the highway from Tsaile, Ariz. to Kayenta picking up trash.

eterman, who is Ashiihí, born for Tótsohnii, said he hopes to set an example for the rest of the Navajo Nation.

"I figured I shouldn't be one of those people that just talk about what should be done," he said. "I'm doing it because nobody else is."

Peterman's idea came to him after a trip to a Society of American Indian Government Employee conference in Denver, which is geared towards promoting the recruitment, hiring, retention, development and advancement of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the government workforce.

He attended the conference through Dine College's land grant office where he interns. He is a freshman at the college.

Peterman, from Monument Valley, Utah, said that a central theme at the conference was inspired by the "Star Wars" movie character Yoda who said, "Either you do or you do not, there is no try."

"We got back from the conference around four in the morning," he said. "I don't have a ride so I hitchhiked back to Kayenta to see my fiancé and daughter. That's when I saw all the trash along the road and I thought that somebody needs to clean this up."

Peterman is engaged to Sierra Yazzie, 18, of Kayenta.

"It was just an idea," he said laughing. "I'm known to always have crazy ideas but I talked to my fiancé and she said, 'Why not?' It was then that I really decided to go through with it.

"I talked to my parents after that," he said. "I also asked the land grant office if I could do this as one of my projects, which is a part of my internship requirements. Then I began really planning."

He decided to go from Tsaile to Chinle then Many Farms, Rough Rock and on to Kayenta.

"I had to choose between going through Chinle or Lukachukai," he said. "I decided Chinle because there's more traffic that way and, I'm sorry to say, more trash. I wanted to try and make the biggest impact possible."

Peterman's initial plan was to do fence line to fence line trash pickup six miles a day for 16 days. But he has run into several setbacks.

"We're not able to do six miles a day," he said, "and we're not able to go to fence line. There is just too much trash and not enough people."

Due to the lack of participants and the large amount of trash, the group's pace has been slow.

The most assistance Peterman was able to get was five people. On average, he said, it is just himself, his fiancé and another person.

"I tried to get as many people as I could," he said. "I put it on Facebook, in the Navajo Times and told people. I couldn't get enough though. People had to work or go to school.

"We did OK the first day," he said. "We met our mark. The second day, we began to fall apart. Our feet were hurting, we were dehydrated, one guy had allergies, another got a bloody nose, and we were tired and had headaches. We only did on

e mile that day."

Peterman said they traveled back to Diné College to rest but was determined not to quit. Unfortunately, some changes and sacrifices had to be made.

"We decided to only go to tree line," he said, "and we work as far as we can each day but because we have a fixed timeline we began the next day at our six-mile marker, whether or not we made it that far the day before."

In two instances Peterman went to homes to ask for help but was successful only once.

"One family helped us for a bit," he said. "We went to another household and they asked if they would get paid to do it. I told them they weren't. They weren't interested."

Peterman will begin at his 11th six-mile marker today (June 28) close to Rough Rock, Ariz.

The Diné College Land Grant office has supplied Peterman with trash bags and evening meals. Peterman said that his team will camp out alongside the road each night until they reach Kayenta on July 3.

"We're asking for any kind of donations," he said. "We need water, food and, most importantly, we need people.

"I want to show everyone that you can't just talk about doing something," he said, "you have to also put the plan in motion. You have to just do it.

"The hardest part is starting," he said. "This can be applied to everything. An example is learning your language.

"If you teach yourself one word and keep adding on to that one word soon you'll have all these words," he said. "You start creating your own sentences. That trickles into learning your culture and it just keeps expanding. But you have to start to get there."