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Winona LaDuke inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame

SENECA FALLS, N.Y. - Winona LaDuke was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls Oct. 7, joining eight other inductees.

LaDuke has dedicated her life to protecting the earth, advocating for renewable energy resources, and protecting and preserving American Indian cultures. Her efforts involve the preservation of ancient traditions, such as the wild rice that is central to her cultural and spiritual way of life.

LaDuke, Anishinaabeg from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, is a graduate of Harvard and Antioch universities. She returned to her ancestral land on White Earth and raised three children while starting businesses and traveling the country on speaking engagements and attending meetings.She ran as a vice presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000.

LaDuke organized the White Earth Land Recovery Project, the largest reservation-based nonprofit organization in the country. Its mission is to facilitate the recovery of the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation while preserving and restoring traditional practices of land stewardship, language fluency, community development and strengthening the spiritual and cultural life of the community, according to the organization's Web site.

Her work to protect the planet began in 1993 with the organization of Honor the Earth, a grass-roots organization that has expanded its influence internationally to work for environmental justice and to encourage and support other American Indian communities in their efforts to sustain a healthy environment and live a healthy lifestyle. Honor the Earth also utilizes indigenous wisdom to understand the connection between all life and the earth.

LaDuke is especially vocal about renewable resources and especially what individuals can do to reduce the growth of global warming.

''I am proud of Winona being inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame,'' said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and co-chair of Honor the Earth. ''I have been working with Winona for years on energy and food-security issues. She has dedicated her life to working with our Native nations towards helping build sustainable and healthy communities.''

At a recent gathering of tribal leaders from across the northern Great Plains, LaDuke, as a keynote speaker, mentioned that her reservation was east of the Great Plains and the emissions from fossil fuel-powered facilities travel over her reservation. She said her reservation has 11 lakes that already have enough mercury in them.

''We continue to fish and harvest our wild rice,'' she said. Some of those harvests come from lakes that contain mercury.

''I'm acutely aware of our relationship over all these years with many of the Dakota people in our territory, and are interested in hearing about questions of how we can ensure that our air our land and our water will be there for those generations yet to come,'' she said.

LaDuke is a person who puts into practice what she advocates when it comes to the environment and traditional values. From a handful of corn kernels, similar to heirloom seeds, that were part of the traditional corn crops grown in the Southwest centuries ago, she has grown seven acres of corn that she turns into food products for her family.

She also drives a 1983 diesel automobile that burns biodiesel - or the cooking oil left over from fast food establishments.

''We don't want to change who we are; we don't want to change our identity. You are all really smart indigenous people - we know the truth to who we are and we know that our land is tied to who we are, is tied to identity, is tied to our spiritual practice.

''The covenant in our relationship to the Creator is where our sovereignty comes from - it doesn't come from an IRA government, it doesn't come from a treaty; it comes from who we are and our reaffirmation of relationship with the Earth, like harvesting wild rice, by having the ceremonies,'' she said.

LaDuke is one of 217 women who have been inducted into the hall of fame since 1969, when the hall was established. The National Women's Hall of Fame is on the site of the first women's rights convention in 1848.

LaDuke is a former member of the Greenpeace USA board of directors and is co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Network.

Time magazine nominated her in 1994 as one of America's 50 most promising leaders under 40 years of age; received the Thomas Merton Award in 1996; received the Anne Bancroft Award for Women's leadership Fellowship, the Reebok Human Rights Award and wrote her first novel, ''Last Standing Woman,'' in 1997; and was chosen as Ms. Magazine's Woman of the Year in 1998.

At the National Women's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, she promoted the contributions made by the indigenous peoples of this continent by speaking about the model for the nation's government structure that came from the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy of what became New York state.

She pointed out that in trying to establish a democracy, the Founding Fathers of this country had no role models in Europe. She said they turned to the Iroquois Confederacy as the model.

''In coming here, I saw signs along the roads against Indian businesses, against reservations, against sovereignty,'' LaDuke said in her acceptance speech, as reported in the Finger Lakes Times.

''If we want peace, we have to have justice. I would hope we could not encourage hate and division. It's time to end the war against the Indians and make peace.''