Can’t keep a good woman down

En­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Wi­nona LaDuke speaks at the Len­sic, a Lan­nan Foun­da­tion event

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Bill Kohlhaase

Wi­nona LaDuke was a woman of many words be­fore los­ing her writer’s voice due to t he cu­mu­la­tive ef­fects of per­sonal grief and other cat­a­strophic losses. The vet­eran in­dige­nous rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist and two-time Green Party vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date (in 1996 and 2000, with Ralph Nader) lost her home and many of her be­long­ings in a 2008 fire on the White Earth Reser­va­tion of Min­nesota. Af­ter the deaths of her father, a sis­ter, and other close friends and as­so­ciates, life was weigh­ing heav­ily on the once-tire­less woman. “I be­came a ca­su­alty of the PTSD of the mod­ern In­dian Wars,” she writes in the in­tro­duc­tion to her forth­com­ing book The Wi­nona LaDuke Chron­i­cles: Sto­ries From the Front Lines in the Bat­tle for En­vi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice (avail­able from www.hon­ortheearth­mer­chan­­aladuke­books). “And in my spin, I lost my love, my heart, and some of my clos­est friends. Sort of the rock-bot­tom thing.”

The au­thor of the 1997 novel Last Stand­ing Woman and many other books also found her­self un­able to write. “Writ­ing be­came very im­por­tant to sur­vival,” she told Pasatiempo in a phone call from Min­nesota. “I love writ­ing more than any­thing. I love to hear a piece of this story and then hear an­other piece of that story some­where else and go back­ward and for­ward in time.” LaDuke shares those sto­ries on Wed­nes­day, Feb. 24, as part of the Lan­nan Foun­da­tion’s Pur­suit of Cul­tural Free­dom se­ries; Mililani Trask, a leader of the Hawai­ian sovereignty move­ment, joins her on­stage at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter.

The daugh­ter of an Anishi­naabe (Ojibwe) father and Jewish mother, LaDuke was raised in Ash­land, Ore­gon, where her mother taught art at South­ern Ore­gon Univer­sity. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Har­vard Univer­sity, she got her mas­ter’s de­gree at An­ti­och Col­lege, where her grad­u­ate the­sis fo­cused on the ru­ral sub­sis­tence econ­omy then prac­ticed by the Anishi­naabe. LaDuke be­gan mak­ing a name for her­self in the late 1970s when she worked with Navajo ac­tivist John Red­house for the Al­bu­querque-based New Mex­ico In­dian En­vi­ron­men­tal Education Pro­ject. The next decade found her on the White Earth Reser­va­tion, fol­low­ing in her father’s foot­steps as a treaty rights and tribal lands ac­tivist. In 1989, she founded the White Earth Land Re­cov­ery Pro­ject, a non­profit ded­i­cated to pro­tect­ing tribal lands and restor­ing land that had once be­longed to the tribe or its mem­bers.

LaDuke has said she in­her­ited her force­ful stance on so­cial is­sues from her mother, artist Betty LaDuke, whose paint­ings on global top­ics re­flect her pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics. “All you have to do is look at my mother’s art, and it all makes per­fect sense,” LaDuke said. “She spent time in Africa and Asia and South Amer­ica. She speaks five lan­guages. I was raised in a mul­ti­cul­tural house­hold, where I was taught that cul­tural ex­pres­sion is the beauty of life and what dis­tin­guishes us as hu­mans. My grand­mother was a work­ing- class Jew who wasn’t in­ter­ested in rich peo­ple. My fam­ily has al­ways been in­ter­ested in peo­ple who had courage, who per­se­vered, who kept some­thing valu­able of their cul­ture. That’s where I come from. Those are the glasses I’m look­ing through.”

That’s the per­spec­tive LaDuke brings to her new book, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, bi­ogra­phies, place de­scrip­tions, and re­ports on small-scale economies, sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, and oil pipe­line con­tro­ver­sies. “It’s a priv­i­lege to travel the way I do, to go to dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and hear all th­ese amaz­ing sto­ries,” she said. “The book isn’t a travel jour­nal but con­tains a wide range of sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences. I wrote some of the last pieces just this De­cem­ber and Jan­uary. It’s fresh writ­ing, mostly from the last five years.”

She ded­i­cates the long­est piece, “In Praise of the Lead­er­ship of In­dige­nous Women,” to In­dia’s Van­dana Shiva, a woman who shares LaDuke’s com­mit­ment to small farm­ing and re­sist­ing cor­po­rate agri­cul­ture and its use of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied seed crops. “In Praise” delves into di­a­mond min­ing, tar-sands ex­trac­tion, and pipe­lines. It crit­i­cizes the Cana­dian govern­ment for its treat­ment of First Na­tions peo­ple and pro­files women who’ve made cru­cial dif­fer­ences in the strug­gles for en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic jus­tice. One is Theresa Spence, for­mer chief of the At­tawapiskat First Na­tion in On­tario; Spence went on a hunger strike in 2012 to protest the govern­ment’s re­source ex­trac­tion poli­cies

and its treat­ment of in­dige­nous peo­ples. In­dige­nous women, LaDuke writes, “are also con­nected to the Earth in a way that the Fat Taker, the

Wa­sichu, and the cor­po­rate preda­tor econ­omy is not and will never be. That is be­cause we un­der­stand our re­la­tion­ship and honor our Mother. We un­der­stand that what cor­po­ra­tions would do to the Earth is what cor­po­ra­tions and armies have done to our women, and we give no con­sent.”

As ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Honor the Earth, LaDuke works with her or­ga­ni­za­tion to es­tab­lish small-scale, lo­cal­ized, sus­tain­able Na­tive economies. That re­quires pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment at the global level while guar­an­tee­ing the avail­abil­ity of nu­tri­tious food that’s not con­trolled by out­side cor­po­ra­tions. On the White Earth Reser­va­tion, the group sup­ports the sell­ing of “pipe­line-free” wild rice, lo­cal art, ac­tivist-themed ap­parel, and reser­va­tion-roasted coffee. “Twenty-five per­cent of the CO2 that we’re deal­ing with in cli­mate change comes from the in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture sys­tem,” she said. “It’s oil in­ten­sive. I think we can re­lo­cal­ize on a na­tional scale. It’s ob­vi­ous I’m not a fan of Cargill, Mon­santo, Kraft, or any of them. On a world­wide scale, 70 per­cent of the world’s food is pro­duced by small, mostly in­dige­nous farm­ers. Look at the farm­ers mar­kets all over the coun­try. You have a large small-farm pres­ence at your mar­ket in Santa Fe. But 30 per­cent is brought to you by [cor­po­ra­tions]. That equals tril­lions of dol­lars. They have all the money and they have all the con­trol.”

The way LaDuke sees it, the grow­ing of wild rice in the lakes of Min­nesota might be threat­ened by ex­ist­ing and pro­posed pipe­lines. She was a vis­i­ble pres­ence in the fight against the Keystone XL pipe­line. She con­tin­ues to chal­lenge an­other pipe­line com­pany, En­bridge Inc., which has both ex­ist­ing and pro­posed pipe­lines in Min­nesota that carry crude from Canada, North Dakota, and Mon­tana across Min­nesota’s lake coun­try to ports on Lake Su­pe­rior. LaDuke told Pasatiempo about a meet­ing she’d had the pre­vi­ous day with En­bridge rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “I asked them, ‘ Why can’t you be a bridge to the next econ­omy rather than try­ing to wring ev­ery cent from the old one and de­stroy the planet in the process? You need to just smarten up.’” She paused for a mo­ment. “I think they took it well.”

Writ­ing was part of LaDuke’s re­cov­ery, and she felt an obli­ga­tion to tell the sto­ries that in­spired her. “Peo­ple had been so gen­er­ous with me that I re­al­ized I had to con­trib­ute — that I had to tell their sto­ries. From there I was able to go on.” LaDuke’s writ­ing in­cor­po­rates Hawai­ian and other in­dige­nous tongues, and she uses spe­cific ex­am­ples of how a cul­ture can have many dif­fer­ent words to de­scribe one thing. Na­tive Hawai­ians, for ex­am­ple, have a va­ri­ety of words to de­scribe taro, a sta­ple of their diet. The dif­fer­ent names dis­tin­guish its cer­e­mo­nial uses from its culi­nary im­por­tance. “Cer­tain words can hold so much,” she ex­plained. “Lan­guage has a spir­i­tual essence. If you’re a writer, lan­guage is so beau­ti­ful and you want it to be lyri­cal, to look and sound fresh. That’s what hap­pens when you bring in all those lan­guages. The words fas­ci­nate me, and I use a smat­ter­ing of them here and there to make the writ­ing sound beau­ti­ful and its mes­sage sound au­then­tic.”

She also found the strength to build her­self a new place to live. “I re­built the house mostly of sal­vaged stuff I got off Craigslist,” she said. “I was re­ally into Craigslist for a while.”

I was taught that cul­tural ex­pres­sion is the beauty of life and what dis­tin­guishes us as hu­mans. ... My fam­ily has al­ways been in­ter­ested in peo­ple who had courage, who per­se­vered, who kept some­thing valu­able of their cul­ture. That’s where I come from. Those are the glasses I’m look­ing through.

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