Ojibwe activist and former Ralph Nader running mate Winona LaDuke urged University students and Ann Arbor community members last night not to get complacent in the fight for human rights.

Kelly Fraser
Ojibwe activist Winona LaDuke spoke about food and energy sustainability to a crowd of about 60 at the Trotter House last night. (SAM WOLSON/Daily)

LaDuke spoke at the Trotter Multicultural Center about the recent passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration, which passed on Sept. 13, was a symbolic message to affirm rights for indigenous groups around the world.

The event was hosted by the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs in recognition of National American Indian Heritage Month.

LaDuke said Native American people have been trivialized by U.S. culture, citing the use of Native American mascots and the popularity of Pocahontas Halloween costumes.

“We do not exist as full human beings,” she said. “We exist as caricatures.”

She also referenced the senior honor society formerly known as Michigamua and its appropriation of Native American culture in its rituals. Earlier this year, the group changed its name to the Order of Angell and registered as a University student group. The group agreed to stop using Native American artifacts in its rituals in 1989.

LaDuke said that indigenous people are oppressed in the United States because American society is based on conquest, not survival.

In order to support globalization and an energy-dependent economy, she said, a large amount of people are displaced.

“Our economy requires denying human rights,” she said.

LaDuke criticized the Bush administration, half-jokingly saying that the nation was part of an “axis of evil.”

“The Bush administration is arguably one of the worst violators of international law,” she said.

Alyx Cadotte, a MESA program specialist who helped coordinate the event, said that although the U.N. declaration isn’t legally binding, it’s an important step for groups who she said are frequently denied basic human rights.

“The declaration could have a lot of impact on how native tribes are treated in the United States,” she said. “It’s been brought to national attention.”

Native Americans, she said, are often denied territory and full use of resources on reservations.

Margaret Noori, a University professor of Ojibwe language and literature, said having a notable figure who speaks her language visit the University is meaningful.

“I was thankful that MESA chose to bring a woman who is one of us and is known throughout the world,” Noori said.

Noori said 140 University students are enrolled in Ojibwe classes.

LaDuke also focused heavily on issues of food and energy sustainability, drawing strong support from the crowd of about 60 listeners.

“What I am trying to impart, which I am sure in my ranting you will get, is that it’s not the law, it’s not what the U.N. says, it’s how we choose to live,” she said.

Amid a chorus of affirmations from the audience, LaDuke emphasized that it wasn’t enough for Ann Arborites to buy hybrid cars but to ignore other environmental issues.

“This is a privileged city, but that’s the thing about privilege,” she said. “You have responsibility.”

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