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March 25, 2009 – Our Town – OWU

Environmental activist Winona LaDuke shares her thoughts on helping to preserve the planet as part of OWU’s 2008-2009 Sagan National Colloquium.
Photo by Shade Fakunle ’10

Aiding the Earth
Environmental activist shares her life lessons

“Who’s in charge of your future?” asks environmental activist Winona LaDuke, founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

LaDuke spoke at Ohio Wesleyan University on March 23 as part of the 2008-2009 Sagan National Colloquium. Her topic was “Building a Green Economy: Indigenous Strategies for a Sustainable Future,” during which she compared the lessons she learned as a Native American growing up on a reservation with mainstream American society.

“You have to recognize that our environment may be in need of a little enlightenment,” LaDuke says.

If American society would incorporate the teachings and values of other cultures including some Native American cultures and even those of China and parts of Africa, it would not be the most wasteful country in the world, she says.

LaDuke then shared “tenets of sustainability” based upon teachings from her youth:

Teaching No. 1: The creator’s law: the highest law. We are all related.

“In the larger teaching, we believe we are related to the larger world, not just humans,” LaDuke says.

But American society is vastly different, she contends. “This society doesn’t look at that,” and, as a consequence, American society consumes the environment more than necessary. “Those extinctions [of natural resources] are because of our greed,” LaDuke says.

Teaching No. 2: Most things which are natural are cyclical.

“The tides, the moons, the seasons, our bodies … they are all cyclical,” she says.

In American society, LaDuke argues, the system is not cyclical, but linear. She notes that one of the biggest industries in America is waste management. “We don’t reduce, recycle, and reuse. We extract, produce, and throw away,” she says.

Teaching No. 3: In each deliberation, consider the impact of the seventh generation.

LaDuke says the acts of the current generation determine the state of future generations. “The present financial crisis is the root of the problem. We wouldn’t be in the crisis if we had long-term thinking [in the past],” she says.

And like problems with the economy, health issues will continue to grow along with issues such as climate change and food security, LaDuke says.

LaDuke went on to suggest not necessarily solutions, but actions that everyday people can take to allow the environment to survive longer. She suggests, for example, that everyone grow gardens to help to re-localize food security and harness wind power to re-localize energy.

“In the end, you have a choice. Try to do the best you can. Don’t squander your mind. You have a shot at keeping them from combusting the planet into an oblivion. We have a shot at doing things right,” LaDuke concludes.

LaDuke was raised in Ashland, Oregon. Her father was part Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Chippewa) from an Indian reservation in Minnesota. In 1996 and 2000, she ran for vice president of the Unites States as a member of the Green Party. She is the recipient of numerous awards and was inducted in the National Women Hall of Fame in 2007. LaDuke is the mother of five children.

In addition to speaking as part of the Sagan National Colloquium, LaDuke also delivered a second OWU presentation, delivering the Women and Gender Studies Program’s Phyllis Johnson Jones lecture.

– Shade Fakunle ’10