Winona LaDuke has made a name for herself as an environmental justice activist and two-time vice-presidential candidate (she was Ralph Nader’s Green Party running mate in 1996 and 2000), but these days she’s focusing her attention on her home reservation in Northern Minnesota.
On March 22, Loyola Marymount University students, faculty, and staff filled the Life Sciences Building auditorium to hear LaDuke deliver a talk about indigenous-led movements for change with an underlying message of empowerment. She began with a broad background about land and her life on the White Earth Reservation where she cultivates and harvests wild rice, corn, and other crops.
“For indigenous people, society is not based on conquest, but on survival,” said LaDuke. Many indigenous communities view land as a community to which we belong. For this reason, preserving natural resources and also working to get ahead of the self-sustainability curve are motivating factors driving LaDuke’s activism and daily work.
Together with indigenous populations and Minnesotans of mostly German and Norwegian heritage, LaDuke has opposed extractive industries like coal and oil for years. To date, she and thousands of other activists, who she refers to as water protectors, have also defeated specific projects such as: the Sandpiper, Keystone, and Dakota Access pipelines. And, the water protectors are gearing up yet again to protest another Enbridge Energy project this June.
While LaDuke is very clear that she plans to continue resisting threatening pipeline projects, she is equally interested in creating projects that will pave the way for a better future. These include building microgrids and growing industrial hemp as a sustainable alternative to manufactured fabrics and water-intensive fibers like cotton. “Let’s put our minds together to see what future we can make for our children,” she said.
In her presentation, LaDuke also riffed on President Trump’s campaign slogan to “make America great again.”
“America was great when we had over 8,000 varieties of corn and tremendous agrobiodiversity. That’s when America was great, or when there were 50 million buffalo in the U.S.,” she said.
Perhaps LaDuke’s most poignant point came when she reminded the audience that “America was great when we respected each other.”
To view a recording of LaDuke’s lecture visit: https://vimeo.com/262253351