By Marit Gookin
If Government Draw looked a little cleaner the last time you saw it, you probably have Levon Jaure to thank. Jaure, a member of the Native American Church of the Ghost Dancers, is working hard on a Clean Lands Clean Bodies initiative, dedicated to both cleaning up trash on local land and to helping support the drug and alcohol addiction recovery community.
“It was taught to me in sweat-lodge that the spirit of the community is tied to the spirit of the land,” Jaure described. For Jaure, helping the land you live on is helping your community, and helping your community is helping the land: it’s all tied together.
Jaure explained that the journey that led him here began in 2008, at a Sun Dance ceremony in Fort Washakie. “I prayed for help with my substance abuse and my legal troubles,” he said. Later that year, he ended up in jail, and eventually found himself in alcohol addiction treatment in California. That’s where he met Clifton and Teresa Aduddell and became involved in the Native American Church of the Ghost Dancers, even going with them to present before the United Nations in 2010. When Jaure came back to Fremont County, he brought the church with him, and filed as a religious nonprofit with the state of Wyoming.
“At that time, I had in my heart to try to do something about the problem of the illegal dump sites in Fremont County,” he commented. Jaure has begun clean-up efforts in various locations; he said that while there is so much trash in some of these areas that it would take weeks to remove all of it by hand, even with a team of volunteers, even just beginning to make a dent can go a long way. Although Jaure has received some support from the community – he particularly noted that the owner of RTO in Riverton will give him a tank of gas for free when he’s going out to clean up a location – he is currently funding these efforts primarily out of his own pocket.
“Because I’m motivated and I want to see this thing happen, I’m willing to put forward what I have,” he remarked.
Earlier this year, Jaure worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to organize a clean-up at Government Draw. He said that the turnout was much bigger than he could have anticipated. Now, Jaure has turned his attention to the Gas Hills outside Riverton.
“I’m trying to get community support because the more bodies we have, the more impact we can have,” he explained. The site on which Jaure has chosen to focus, which has long been plagued by illegal dumping of trash, is filled with all kinds of garbage ranging from clothes to couches and refrigerators. “I think we could realistically, in four hours, with a group of, say, 10 people, remove most of the larger items.” Jaure plans to take before and after pictures of the site to document the impact just one day of volunteer efforts is able to have.
On Monday, Jaure spoke with the LOR Foundation in Lander about the possibility of a grant from the organization to put toward a dump trailer with a winch. He hopes to use the volunteer efforts this summer as a sort of proof of concept, so he can approach other organizations about financial support from them, as well.
“I know that if I show I’m committed and put in the work, the money will come,” he noted. Jaure hopes to eventually acquire more equipment that will allow him to clean up sites faster and more efficiently, ultimately even expanding his efforts beyond Fremont County. “Word will spread, and I’m going to have tribal governments across the country saying ‘We need you here,’” he described as his ideal endpoint. “This is also a dream of mine for a career path.”
Jaure also plans to hold a Clean Lands Clean Bodies event in Riverton in September, and has been inviting local artists to come set up booths. He’s trying to raise money to buy a pig so he can sell pulled pork sandwiches, and said that he also plans to invite speakers from the BLM and the Court Assisted Supervised Treatment program to talk about both land impact and substance abuse, as well as other speakers on topics such as conservation and overdosing. In addition to educating the public on environmental topics and celebrating the initiative’s accomplishments over the summer, he also hopes the event can raise awareness about the county’s issues with methamphetamines and fentanyl and what resources are available.
Even though Jaure hopes his initiative will grow, he plans to come back to Riverton every fall no matter where clean-up efforts take him. “Every year in September, we’ll come back, and we’ll have our Clean Lands Clean Bodies event” in Riverton, he explained. Additionally, he makes a point of trying to patronize local businesses, banking with Wyoming Community Bank and working with local gas stations. “I’m trying to generate revenue for our county, our city,” he commented. “I give credence back to my community that’s supported me through my life … Nobody’s ever judged me in Riverton.”
The Gas Hills clean-up will be held this Saturday, July 22, starting at 8 a.m. at a location known as Hole in the Rock; Jaure explained that after turning onto Gas Hills Road, drivers should stay left at the fork and then drive about 1.7 miles farther. For those who want to lend a hand but are unable to help physically, he suggested that donating items such as a box of gloves or even a few dollars to help cover gas expenses and dump fees would also go a long way. Anyone interested in donating may contact him at 307-349-8915 or firstname.lastname@example.org; because the Native American Church of the Ghost Dancers is a registered 501c3, Jaure noted that all donations are tax-deductible. He clarified that because there is so much trash at this particular location, he plans to focus on removing large items for now – and hopes to come back to clean up more trash at the site later, hopefully once he has more funding and equipment.
“I’m just at the beginning,” Jaure concluded.