WASHINGTON, D.C. - Thousands gathered on the rain-soaked ground between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Earth Day.
They focused attention April 22 on clean energy, renewable energy and caring for the environment through messages from celebrities and political figures as well as today's hottest entertainers.
Following the first Earth Day in 1970, and a new public awareness for the environment, the federal government established the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress passed the Clean Air Act. Since then, numerous environmental laws have been enacted.
This year Winona LaDuke, White Earth Band of Ojibwe and Green Party vice-presidential candidate, voiced concern regarding nuclear waste on reservations and tribal lands and the need for governmental reform in its policies on nuclear clean-up.
"I think our way of life is about Earth Day," she said. "Native peoples have earth-based cultures and religions and participating in Earth Day is an opportunity for us to recover what we have lost."
LaDuke is the running mate of Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader; however, she also is program director for Honor the Earth, an organization which provides funding and public support for Native environmental initiatives. Honor the Earth has representatives from the Seventh Generation Fund, the Indigenous Women's Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network which work to increase the visibility of Native communities impacted by radioactive materials dumping.
LaDuke called on the government to stop the spread of nuclear waste disposal on reservations, and instead, focus on the clean-up of current sites.
"The amount of funding allocated to Indian tribes for clean-up is pitiful," she said. "The future of energy policy has to address the needs of Indian country. Ninety-nine percent of the nuclear waste that has been dumped or is planning to be dumped will wind up on or near tribal lands."
LaDuke also wants to call attention to buffalo protection and restoration.
Honor the Earth says the state of Montana and federal officials have killed more than 2,500 buffalo outside Yellowstone National Park over the past four years. Her organization and others, including tribal governments, are working to put an end to what she terms "a slaughter."
While the South Dakota Native group "Indigenous" brought the sounds of the blues and an acoustic set debuting its new song "Little Time," the young Lakota musicians brought a message that everyone should support efforts to better protect the earth.
"Earth Day helps people to think," said Mato Nanji, and lead guitarist for the group. "If we can contribute by playing music, then all the better. There should be more events like this."
The group plans to kick off a tour with the Indigo Girls this fall. Some of the proceeds will support the efforts of organizations like Honor the Earth.
Earth Day 2000 event was filled with appearances by Leonardo Dicaprio, Clint Black, Edward James Olmos, Monica and others. Hundreds of exhibits and displays were found grouped beneath tents offering information, examples of clean energy technology, and hands-on activities.