By Melody Parker
Winona LaDuke stopped by last week to give a lecture at UC Santa Cruz, while across town her former presidential running mate, Ralph Nader, was speaking at the Rio Theatre.
LaDuke delivered compelling stories about her lifelong fight for environmental justice and Native American rights to the students in the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP), a student-run program composed of courses that discuss, design and implement ecologically sustainable projects on campus.
A Harvard graduate of the native economic development program, LaDuke has worked tirelessly for 30 years as an activist, author, and director of a nonprofit organization. In addition to rallying and writing, she also harvests and sells native food and crafts to help create a sustainable economy for the Anishinaabe people in Minnesota.
Maria Cepeda, ESLP organizer and fourth-year environmental studies major, felt honored to hear her.
“Winona LaDuke is crucial in raising consciousness and recognizing all of the iniquitous treatment towards indigenous people here in America,” Cepeda said. “It shows how one woman can do so much.”
As founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota, LaDuke helped the Anishinaabe people buy back thousands of acres of land legally entitled to their ancestors by the federal treaty of 1867, through years of fundraising and petitioning.
LaDuke discussed how even today, Native Americans continue to be marginalized and mistreated. She protests the fact that 70 percent of the world’s uranium is mined in Native American communities. Many sites are abandoned without even an attempt to clean up the area and over 1,000 uranium mines have been abandoned on the Navajo reservation alone, which means that the radiation exposure for indigenous people is incredibly high.
LaDuke is strongly against using nuclear power to combat global warming. In the lecture she joked, “If nuclear power was the answer to climate change, then what exactly was the question?”
Lauren Brown, an ESLP student and third-year anthropology major who was unaware of LaDuke before this quarter, was thoroughly impressed.
“Even with all the corruption and exploitation of indigenous people, she brought up many positive messages,” Brown said.
“Let’s be honest, some people don’t care [about the environment],” LaDuke said in an interview with City on a Hill Press. “Some just want to buy their way of life at the mall, be in denial, and sedate themselves with whatever they’re consuming. But many just don’t know about the issues. I think that the more information you give them and help them have power to make good decisions, the better shot we have.”
LaDuke’s candor and credibility is seen in person and on the page. In her book “Recovering the Sacred,” she uncovered the fact that most Americans were granted the right of religious freedom in the Constitution about 230 years ago. But Congress failed to include indigenous people until 30 years ago with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.
Cepeda holds a strong belief in indigenous and environmental causes.
“[LaDuke] fights for Native American rights and the environment,” Cepeda said. “But it’s also important to recognize that in the end it is a fight for all of us, human and nonhuman.”