Winona LaDuke – “We have to speak for those without a voice”

Inspiring others to use their voice, WMEAC’s Women and the Environment Symposium  encourages women to advocate for causes they care about for themselves, others, and the environment.

Serving as a week-long effort from Feb. 23 through March 2, the 2017 symposium will feature Winona LaDuke, keynote speaker at the “Hidden Environmental Heroines” reception.

Internationally renowned activist, Winona LaDuke advocates for Native American environmental causes, renewable energy, and food systems. Currently, LaDuke lives and works on the White Earth reservation located in Northern Minnesota, and has run twice for Vice President of the United States alongside Ralph Nader for the Green Party.

Nearly 25 years ago, LaDuke co-founded Honor the Earth with the Indigo Girls, and now acts as the executive director. The effort is primarily focused on climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice for Indigenous communities.

“We were looking for a way to spread awareness and support for Native American environmental causes,” she said. “In the early years, we did a few tours to promote our message, but now we have grown into the largest Native American environmental organization and do everything from front lines actions, to local solar projects.”

In her community, LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project serving as one of the largest reservation-based nonprofit organizations in the United States.

As a graduate from Harvard and Antioch Universities, LaDuke has written five books and various articles on Native American environmental and legal issues. In 2007, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her community leadership.

Speaking at universities across the country, LaDuke collaborates with grassroots organizations, tribal governments, and media outlets for her expertise. Part of her mission, she said, is to shape and teach the next generation of women as leaders and advocates for change.

“I spend a lot of time on the road, speaking at colleges and universities,” LaDuke said. “Sometimes students come up to me after and tell me I’ve inspired them, or ask how they can help. I can usually find a project or three I need an extra hand on.”

Since 2013, LaDuke has been defending her land in Northern Minnesota from fracking (gas and oil extraction), and she has advocated for the defeat of the Sandpiper pipeline in 2016. The Sandpiper was a 616-mile crude oil line, which would travel from North Dakota through Clearbrook, Minnesota, and end at Enbridge facilities in Superior, Wisconsin.

“This pipeline, the Sandpiper, would have carried Bakken oil through pristine wild rice lakes in Anishinaabe aiking, the Ojibwe homeland,” she said. “The oil would be coming from the lands of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.”

Currently, LaDuke is protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DPAL) that threatens Missouri River water and sacred Native American lands, cutting from North Dakota through Illinois. The new route is directed through the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

“These people are suffering. Their air, water, and land are being contaminated by fracking. Then they wanted to shove that oil in a pipe through my homelands,” she said.

In 2016, the DPAL pipeline was postponed by the Obama Administration. However, on Jan. 24, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reopening the plans.

“It didn’t matter that the tribes didn’t want it, it didn’t matter that the pipeline was routed around urban areas and shifted all the risk to our communities,” LaDuke said. “After we defeated the Sandpiper last year, Enbridge thought they would hedge their bets and invest in DAPL.

“This work is important because we have to speak for those without a voice, for the unborn generations and the water. It’s not the 1900’s. It’s time to transition to clean energy.”

As the Keynote Speaker at WMEAC’s Women & Environment Symposium, LaDuke will offer advice and encourages women and young girls to read, learn about the Earth and community, and volunteer.

“This is a time of change. We have a prophecy of two paths. One that is worn and scorched, and one that is green and new. It’s up to us to choose the right path,” she said.

Winona LaDuke will speak at the Grand Valley State University Loosemore Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2. To view the full line-up for the Women and the Environment Symposium or reserve a spot at the keynote reception, visit WMEAC’s website for details.

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