When Iron Eyes Cody, the Italian-cum-Native who first brought Americans’ attention to the problem of litter, shed that single tear after being hit with garbage, he could not know that he was at the cutting edge of a national ecological consciousness-raising. Soon after that anti-littering advertisement, though not because of it, the first Earth Day was created on April 22, 1970. Since then the event has gone global, been declared as International Mother Earth Day by the United Nations and is celebrated in nearly 200 countries.
“Mother Earth is a common expression for the planet earth in a number of countries and regions, which reflects the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet,” the U.N. site points out. “For instance, Bolivians call Mother Earth Pachamama and Nicaraguans refer to her as Tonantzin.”
Out of the new awareness in the U.S. grew the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts, the Earth Day site says on its history page. Earth Day 2011 featured A Billion Acts of Green and seeks to highlight the numerous small actions that people can take to clean up the environment and reduce their carbon footprint.
Tribes, of course, have been stewards of the earth for thousands of years and nationwide are working to become more green—instituting green practices in their offices like the Winnebago, creating green energy enterprises like the Seneca and cleaning up rivers like the Nottoway, to give just a few examples. The Cocopah Indian Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Nation, Quechan Tribe and Tohono O’odham Nations are working with Arizona officials to clean up trash discarded by migrants along the U.S.–Mexico border.
Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian immigrant and actor who embraced Native causes, remains with us in spirit via YouTube. See his iconic, game-changing public service announcement here.