Our second feature for #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth is the environmental and Anishinaabe activist Winona LaDuke. Growing up, she was raised in a town in Oregon where neither Jews (her mother’s heritage) nor Native Indians surrounded her, and began to understand what it meant to be “othered”. She wasn’t enrolled in the Ojibwe Nation (her father’s tribe) at the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota until after graduating from Harvard, where her activism fully developed. Winona became a prominent voice and devotes her work towards anti-violence, reproductive rights, and safe spaces for women of color to organize.
Some of her most prominent work to uplift and support Indigenous Native Americans include her founding the Indigenous Women’s Network, a space that advocated for the sovereignty of their personhood and environment. The group also uses their platform to call to attention a variety of injustices, including forced sterilization. She co-organized INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence – a national grassroots organization that builds coalitions on the intersections of state violence and sexual and domestic violence.
She has been a vocal activist throughout the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Dakota Access Pipeline protests – a movement to stop corporations from building a pipeline that would extend from North Dakota to Illinois and pollute their sole water source; resulting in a public health crisis. #NoDAPL as most commonly referenced in the media, for LaDuke, extends from the initial meaning to touching upon climate change, promoting renewable energy and the reduced usage of fossil fuels. For her, it is about reclaiming a space, reclaiming traditional practices, reclaiming Mother Earth, from centuries of colonial dominance and violence. Once marginalized groups are able to decolonize the white gaze, the systemic oppression put into place by white supremacy can no longer hold the same gravitas.
She is the founder, and executive director of Honor The Earth, whose mission is to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities through music, the arts, the media, and Indigenous wisdom.
LaDuke is also an economist, and had a political career as the vice presidential running mate to Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 1996 and 2000.
If we are to seek and struggle for common ground of all women, it is essential to struggle on this issue. It is not that the women of the dominant society in so-called first world countries should have equal pay and equal status, if that pay and status continues to be based on a consumption model which is not only unsustainable, but causes constant violation of the human rights of women and nations elsewhere in the world. It essential to collectively struggle to recover our status as Daughters of the Earth. In that is our strength and the security; not in the predator, but in the security of our Mother, for our future generations. In that we can ensure our security as the Mothers of our Nations. (United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China, August 1995).