Sasha LaPointe and Bonita Rickers


Piles of shredded paper and Christmas lights line the isle of the auditorium, leading up to the stage’s elaborate installation of discarded paper lanterns, crumpled newspaper piles and paper flowers. Behind the neatly arranged trash decor, aglow with coiled strands of tiny lights, is the post-apocalyptic wasteland of “The Road Warrior,” projecting a glowing scene of flaming cars, feathers and face paint. Outside the sound of newspaper skirts crinkling over the rustle of trash bags can be heard as the models line up at the door. David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel” comes over the sound system and cues the first trash-clad model to storm down the makeshift runway, flaunting a creation constructed entirely of recycled materials. The show has begun.

This is The Institute of American Indian Arts’ (IAIA) first ever Trash Bash and Fashion Show, themed Dumpster Warriors. Hosted by Student Sustainability Leadership (SSL), the event opened with a screening of Anne Leonard’s, “The Story of Stuff,” a short film on the creation and disposal of consumer goods. This was followed by, “Bag It,” a documentary that investigates plastic’s role in global society, directed by Suzan Baraza. Sustainable popcorn was served and a discussion facilitated by Annie McDonnell and Dana Richards followed. The evening was well received by the small but enthusiastic audience who offered their own insights and made the evening a success.

The following evening was kicked off by a meal provided by IAIA’s Bon Appetit Cafe. The food was all natural and predominately local, including vegetables grown in IAIA’s own community farm. Attendees were encouraged to sort their waste into compostable material and recycling. Vegetable food scraps were collected for IAIA’s new wormery.

The meal took place within an art exhibit curated by SSL, comprised entirely of art made from IAIA community recycled materials. Three days worth of trash was collected from campus dumpsters and displayed in the halls along with information about the amount of waste generated at the school. At 7:15 the attendees filed into the trash-filled auditorium to enjoy an exhibit of over 20 recycled designs created and modeled by students and faculty. The looks ranged from casual and contemporary to bizarre and fantastic. Fashions included such creations as a 17th century-inspired gown made from an old atlas, complete with accessories, a plastic bag tuxedo and gown set, a dryer sheet flapper dress, and a wedding gown made up of all manner of garden and household waste. Cardboard bustiers, a pair of aluminum and cardboard wings, and a newspaper crinoline tutu rounded out the show.

Annie McDonnell, a professor at IAIA, began SSL in the Spring 2011 semester as an internship for IAIA students who were interested in helping the college with the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The class meets weekly and is led with the help of Dana Richards, Kim Parko and Thomas Antonio. This team of teachers has provided a variety of educational experiences about sustainability, including workshops with guest artists, sustainability haiku, and a trip to the 22nd Annual Headwaters Conference in Gunnison, Colorado.

The idea for Trash Bash was conceived by two students in SSL’s first year, Sasha LaPointe and Bonita Rickers. The goal of the project was to involve the student body in the quest for carbon neutrality on campus in an engaging and ostentatious manner. The event was held off until the Fall 2011 semester and brought to fruition with the help of Studio Arts major Monica Gutierrez (Hopi and Santa Clara). With the leadership of this trio and the immense support of the SSL team, this vision was made a reality.

Other SSL projects include nature trails and a variety of gardens for medicine, food, basketry and pollination. A significant amount of work went into the Haozous Art and Sustainability Garden, begun with the support of Native artist Bob Haozous. IAIA students have built a cob oven and benches with Jonah Hill (Hopi), painted murals exploring tribal ideas of ecology and sustainability, and planted waffle gardens inspired by Roxanne Swentzell’s (Santa Clara) Flowering Tree Institute.

SSL continues to work with IAIA’s Climate Action Committee on the ACUPCC and a Climate Action Plan will be formed in the coming months for the campus. The group is also planning and facilitating an Intergenerational Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change in the spring. This conference will include dialogue with Native elders and youth on traditional ecological knowledge and climate justice, as well as stories of Native communities and the way they are reacting to climate change.

Trash Bash was SSL’s first community event and a great success for this fledgling group of young environmental activists. They will begin hosting regular events at the school to continue their mission of involving the IAIA student body in sustainable practices and raising awareness of climate issues among Native youth.


Sasha LaPointe (Coast Salish) is a Creative Writing major in her second year at the Institute of American Indian Arts. This is her second semester with SSL. In addition to Trash Bash, she has organized a medicinal plants garden on campus.

Bonita Rickers (Ponca) is an Indigenous Liberal Studies and Studio Arts major at IAIA, and this is her second semester with SSL. She has worked on recycling, composting and vermicomposting projects with the Haozous garden and the USDA farm.


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