Drums and chants at Rackham Amphitheater on Monday evening welcomed Winona LaDuke, an American Indian environmental activist, as she spoke about the ways in which Native Americans are building a greener economy.
As part of Native Heritage Month, the event was intended by its sponsors to raise awareness about Native American communities and their roles in creating a sustainable future. LaDuke talked about how people in today’s society have become addicted to fossil fuel energy, and that in order to change the situation, people need to go back to local communities and work on sustainable energy.
The Native American Student Association co-sponsored the event with a number of student organizations. LSA junior Isa Gaillard, chair of NASA, said he hopes the event illustrates Native Americans’ dedication to the environment.
“We hope it will raise awareness of Native American communities and show how the idea of sustainable environment originated from these communities thousands of years ago,” Gaillard said. “We want to make the connection for students.”
In 1993, LaDuke co-founded Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization to raise awareness and support for environmental issues in Native American communities.
“As Americans, we are the people who live in this time, and we have this opportunity to stop people from blowing up another mountain, from combusting the planet into oblivion,” she said. “We have this opportunity to keep our river for fish, not for chemicals.”
LaDuke said people today are becoming addicts of extreme energy, what she described as the extreme demand and reliance on fossil fuel as a result of the profit-driven economy.
“You rationalize your behavior when you are an addict,” LaDuke said. “Oil-polluted water sources in North Dakota? Who cares? Who lives up there anyway?”
Rebuking Americans who say that sustainable energy cannot meet the nation’s current demand, LaDuke said alternative power sources could supply the United States if so much electricity wasn’t wasted.
LaDuke said the concept of “relocalization,” or focusing on local communities, is the answer to a more sustainable future. She pointed to the Native Americans on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, who harvest solar and wind energy at a scale that is efficient for the small community.
“There is always a chance for redemption,” LaDuke said. “We still have chance to make significant changes.”