LAC DU FLAMBEAU, Wis. - On Earth Day, April 22, world-renowned Anishinaabe
activist and environmentalist Winona LaDuke breezed through the Northwoods
of Wisconsin to educate and familiarize students of all ages about the
state of the environment.
She emphasized how students need to choose the right path to conserve
natural resources. She also encouraged people to seek alternative sources
of energy to reverse the current damage done by use of coal, nuclear power,
and oil. "Wind power and solar power: those things should be our focus in
this part of the country. Each reservation has enough wind potential to
power this country three times over."
LaDuke had delivered speeches four different times that day. Her material,
which ranged from the Arrowhead-Weston Powerline to mercury in fish,
shifted in its complexity as she moved from the Lac du Flambeau Grade
School to Lakeland High School in Minocqua, and rounded out the day at
Nicolet College in Rhinelander in the afternoon and evening.
At the LDF Grade School where she began her day, LaDuke asked students if
they eat fish. After a large number of hands were raised she then explained
"At the rate of the rising toxic emissions in the atmosphere, we won't be
able to eat ANY fish when you are all adults. Children under 15 should not
eat Musky as it is; and the Wisconsin Fishing Regulations set safety limits
for Walleye consumption we can safely eat."
She moved on to Lakeland High School from there, where she spoke about
seven different Native American sacred places and how each were at one time
threatened by mines, development and corporate greed. Yet because of
grassroots campaigns they were saved. "But that doesn't mean that other
places like this are going to be saved in the future." She held the packed
auditorium captive with her speech.
LaDuke's home is the southeast corner of the White Earth reservation in
Minnesota. She majored in Native Economic Development at Harvard, and she
later received her master's degree from Harvard's Antioch College.
Under the sponsorship of the nonprofit White Earth Land Recovery Project
(WELRP), which she founded in 1989 with a $20,000 human-rights award from
Reebok, she has quietly been buying back reservation land owned by
non-Indians. The land is held in a conservation trust by the project, with
the eventual goal of ceding the property to the tribal government. She also
supervises maple sugar and wild-rice processing operations, a stable of
horses, an international network of indigenous women, an Anishinaabe
language program, a wind-energy project, and a herd of buffalo.
She is most widely known for her bid for Vice President with Ralph Nader on
the Green Party ticket in 2000. Throughout the day she was asked several
times if she's going to run again. Because of the stress involved, she
explained why she won't be on that particular ballot. But, she may very
well be the governor of Minnesota in the next election or the following.
"I'm not naturally inclined to politics, but sometimes circumstances force
a private citizen to step forward and become a public citizen. While I
wouldn't run for president (or vice president) again, I am seriously
thinking about running for governor." With the large Native population in
Minnesota and the high percentage of women voters and conservationalists in
that state as well, that might very well be in her future.
LaDuke is a devotee of coffee. She imports beans harvested by peasants in
Mexico, yet another industry run from her home on the rez. Perhaps because
of that fact she is nearly incapable of sitting still. She is constantly
engaged on at least three fronts, writing her next speech with the help of
her assistant Sarah, answering e-mails, and discussing the legalization of
hemp. "You'd have to smoke a bale of it to get high," she joked.
By the time the 7 p.m. speech at Nicolet College rolled around, LaDuke was
looking exhausted yet comfortable under the theatrical lights. As she
launched into her opening statement, her posture straightened, and her
voice rose. "We are a society with solutions," she told the crowd. "That's
what's amazing about this country. There's no absence of resources. We are
a rich country, the richest in the world. We have the resources to do the
right thing. What we have is an absence of political will. We lack the will
to do the right thing."
After a short meet and greet chat session, LaDuke headed to Minneapolis to
catch her plane to Navajo country.