Many may not remember Winona LaDuke, Ralph Nader’s running mate for the 2000 presidential elections. But while the two lost their bid for the White House, LaDuke – a spokeswoman for Native American rights and an environmental activist – is still advocating for the same causes that the Green Party championed.
“She’s one of the top thinkers of our time,” Law student Maren Norton said, referring to LaDuke, who graduated from Harvard University. LaDuke has been promoting Native American and indigenous peoples’ rights since the age of 18, when she addressed the United Nations on behalf of the International Indian Treaty Council.
LaDuke delivered the keynote address at the Annual American Indian Law Day Symposium Friday at Hutchins Hall in the Law School, addressing how globalization and the environment impact Native American communities.
While discussing globalization, she commented on the current war in Iraq and its effect on her community.
“As I watched the 7th Cavalry advance into Iraq, I had a really bad feeling in my stomach,” LaDuke said.
She expressed concern about the high percentage of Native Americans that are enlisted in the military, saying “my community is over there in (in Iraq).”
Law student Matt Pryor said he agreed with LaDuke’s statements about the war.
“I think the general sentiment that she conveyed about how it’s a war for oil … and a war without a base of support was very well stated,” he said.
LaDuke also said questions regarding whether the United States. is fighting a just war are especially relevant to Native American communities, who were once the victims of what she called “the righteousness of American military power.” She compared the war in Iraq to the type of colonialism that allowed European settlers to justify their conquest of the Native Americans and their continued oppression.
“The development of the largest economy in the world, the United States, is directly related to the underdevelopment of native people,” LaDuke said.
She said Native Americans have suffered the most in the violation of their land rights, which has caused structural poverty and a loss of political power.
LaDuke is currently director of the Land Recovery Project on White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, where she resides with her family. It is a small, community-based project dedicated to recovering the reservation’s original land base.
“The only compensation for land is land,” LaDuke said.
The reservation is home to LaDuke’s tribe, the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg. They are currently involved in many projects that aim to improve the environmental condition of their reservation, including a campaign to protect the tribe’s right to farm wild rice, or “manoonin,” in the face of competition from scientists seeking patents for genetically modified versions of their native crop. LaDuke argued that modern farming practices are unsustainable and more damaging to the environment than her tribe’s traditional farming methods.
Public Health student Elizabeth Lowerey said she had mixed feelings about LaDuke’s attack on genetically modified wild rice.
“I see some of the benefits of genetic engineering, but I do see that there are dangers,” Lowery said.
But Lowery said she is in favor of LaDuke’s proposal to utilize wind technology as a cleaner method of producing electrical power.
“Indian reservations on the Great Plains are some of the windiest places in the nation,” LaDuke said.
The event was hosted by the Native American Law Students Association and the Environmental Law Society. It also included a panel titled “The Intersection of Environmental and Indian Law.”