American Indian Insights on Creating a Sustainable Future
A diverse academic audience was prescribed a remedy for some of the defining environmental issues of the century when Winona LaDuke, American Indian political activist and founding co-director of Honor the Earth, spoke at Wake Forest in late September.
LaDuke’s heritage and experience – founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project in her Anishinaabe homelands in Minnesota, co-chair of the Indigenous Women’s Network, former board member of Greenpeace USA, and two-time national office vice presidential candidate – provided a unique landscape for her lecture entitled “To Honor the Spirit of the Earth: Contemporary Indigenous Approaches to Sustainable Economies.” Ulrike Wiethaus, professor of Religion and American Ethnic Studies, says “Winona LaDuke is a global leader and spokesperson in environmental sustainability. She offers a perspective and depth of knowledge that is rarely heard on our campus.”
LaDuke outlined what she identifies as the three most important issues regarding sustainability: climate change, peak oil, and food insecurity. She went on to describe how the current American view on sustainability and the environment is both flawed and unsustainable, saying “It seems like people don’t want to stick around for another 1000 years.” Rather than making viable public policy, we simply clean up the messes we make. She explained to the audience that Americans have an addiction, and that we partake in extreme behaviors, including fracking and mountaintop removal, in order to feed this addiction.
By highlighting various flaws she sees in our economy and the catastrophic consequences of our current behaviors, she urged the audience to spring into action, describing the changes she implemented in her own community: eating local foods, using renewable energy, and increasing the biodiversity of her crops. She emphasized that if her community, which has high rates of poverty, incarceration, and chronic illness, can do it, then the Wake Forest community can too. “You could sit here and pretend that someone else is going to do it. But as my culture says, ‘you are either at the table or on the menu.”
LaDuke’s lecture was a wake-up call for several attendees. As Dr. Wanda Balzano, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program articulated, “Not only is Winona LaDuke a role model for many women who are fighting for social justice, but she is also one of the most important voices of our time as an environmentalist, as an inspirational author, and as a feminist and political activist.” Her presentation will hopefully incite change in our Wake Forest community, and inspire us to plan for the next seven generations in everything that we do.
By Andrea Becker (’16), Staff Writer