Sustainability: LaDuke for change

LaDuke is a women's rights activist and environmentalist. She spoke at SAU on Sept. 27. Rachel Pasker/The Buzz.
LaDuke is a women’s rights activist and environmentalist. She spoke at SAU on Sept. 27. Rachel Pasker/The Buzz.

Barefoot and speaking in her native Algonquin language, one Native American women’s rights activist and environmentalist welcomed a crowd of St. Ambrose students, faculty, staff and community members in the Rogalski Center Ballroom. She continued her talk of the environment and what can be done to attempt to reverse the damage, in English, occasionally teaching the crowd Algonquin words. Just before 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27 more chairs were set out for the line of people filing into the ballroom to hear Winona LaDuke speak.

Bea Jacobson, an SAU English professor, gave the greeting, followed by the president of the university, Joan Lescinski, CSJ, who gave the welcome. She then welcomed senior Jennifer Saulnier, an English major with minors in theology and environmental studies to the stage to introduce the speaker for the evening. LaDuke was brought to SAU as part of the sustainability series by Ambrose women for social justice and academic and student affairs.

LaDuke opened and closed her lecture with short video clips telling of her people, the Anishinaabes, and what they are doing to help the environment. The first video showed the process of harvesting wild rice, which has become their sacred food and the importance of keeping it natural compared to the 95 percent of wild rice that is sold that is genetically modified. Her closing video described and called for support for an upcoming horse ride she would be partaking in that would protest the tar sands pipelines.

Titled Economics for the Seventh Generation, LaDuke spoke of her experiences and the people she has met with as an economist while keeping a light-hearted conversation about climate change, peak oil and food security, and how these problems can be changed.

“It is possible to have an entire world that’s not based on an empire,” LaDuke said.

She cited a conversation with a man who asked, “Do we want to be the ones to stick around another 1,000 years? Do we want to be the ones to be righteous to Mother Earth?” As the audience applauded this question, LaDuke described herself not as an activist, but simply a responsible human being. This led to her three main points of climate change, peak oil and food security, all of which are leading to “combusting ourselves to the end of oblivion” according to LaDuke.

In her discussion of climate change, LaDuke estimated that 60 percent of Navajo households don’t have electricity in their homes.

“Carbon should stay in the ground. That’s how you have a healthy Mother Earth,” LaDuke said.

She provided the audience with pictures of the impacts of climate change showing how melted ice formations can eventually destroy houses. LaDuke also questioned how long the damage in Boulder, Co., would take to clean up.

Her second point about peak oil focused on tar sands and the extreme energy that we are using through fossil fuels. Tar sands are toxic oil deposits that are extremely hot. LaDuke cited the reason for these tar sands was to create access to oil that is cheaper than what is found in Venezuela.

“To use one-fourth of the world’s resources requires a certain amount of violations of human rights,” LaDuke said.

She also encouraged everyone to participate in Unplug America Day on Oct. 13. This is one day where the reduction of consumption is encouraged across the country. LaDuke will be spending that day on horseback protesting the tar sands pipeline.

“The problem is, we’re addicts,” LaDuke said.

LaDuke’s last main point about food security encouraged everyone to use local and natural food. The average meal travels 1,540 miles from the farm to the dinner table. LaDuke worked on her reservation for 30 years and talked of the importance of using natural seed corn. One example proved that her natural corn survived better than Monsanto’s genetically modified corn.

“If you’re gonna grow something, grow heritage foods because they are more nutritional,” LaDuke advised.

She pushed her audience to re-localize their food system by going organic and stop combusting.

LaDuke provided examples for the audience to work toward this. Her house is powered by solar panels, and she said there is more solar power in Bulgaria than in the whole U.S. She also gave the example of what she did on her reservation as a way to decrease extreme energy and keep food localized. LaDuke built a facility on the property of an old school that makes food, especially wild rice and maple candy, and provides meals for three schools in the area. There was also one wind turbine built to help provide energy for the facility.

LaDuke encouraged the members of the SAU community to form a group focused on divestment. This group would challenge fossil fuel companies and pressure Congress to divest fossil fuel stocks. This led to LaDuke’s final challenge to her audience. She noted that the U.S. bases happiness on the level of income.

“Get in balance with Mother Earth, and move from the path we’re on; move from the scorched path to the green path,” LaDuke charged.

LaDuke is an internationally acclaimed author, environmentalist and activist from Minnesota. She is the executive director of White Earth Land Recovery Project. More information on this project can be found online at

Katy Strzepek, director of women’s studies and member of Ambrose women for social justice, called LaDuke “one of the most important Native American women activists today.” She also noted that LaDuke’s talk tied in perfectly with the Sustainability theme and related closely to the first book, Living Downstream, whose author will be speaking on campus in October.

“She is a great activist for the environment,” Strzepek said.


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