Activist Winona LaDuke calls for Juneau residents to launch change

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Winona LaDuke, the two-time vice presidential candidate for the Green Party, urged a Juneau audience Tuesday night to become politically active to change society.

"I myself would like to determine what my future would look like," LaDuke told about 280 people at the Egan Library of the University of Alaska Southeast.

LaDuke, an Ojibwe Indian, described herself as a citizen activist on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. But she has worked in a wider realm as co-founder of the Indigenous Women's Network and as Ralph Nader's running mate in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections.

LaDuke, 42, said she is motivated by her experiences raising seven children and her concerns about the effect of environmental problems on human health.

"Public policy needs to be written by the poorest people, the people who need the fish," LaDuke said, referring to subsistence fishing in Minnesota.

LaDuke said she teaches her children to not steal and not be greedy, to clean up their old mess before they make a new one, and be responsible for their actions.

But the larger society doesn't reflect those values, LaDuke said. She noted the loss of Indian lands, the disparity in income between corporate chief executives and workers, and corporate and military exemptions from environmental laws.

"This is a society that aggrandizes greed," LaDuke said. "We're interested in the stories of the rich and famous. We're not interested in the stories of the common people. We're a society that doesn't ask how they got rich."

LaDuke said the Ojibwe teach that most natural things are seasonal, that people should be respectful and take only what they need. But American society, she said, teaches that humans have dominion over nature. It fosters a "linear production system" that creates products and waste and products that soon become waste.

LaDuke, saying that dissent is patriotic, faulted the size of the American military budget, America's sale and donation of arms around the world, and the nation's development of oil and coal fields and disposal of nuclear waste.

"The United States is the largest funder and purveyor of terrorism in the world, ... of small weapons in the world," at a time when most casualties in war are noncombatants, LaDuke said.

Vincent Allen, a UAS freshman in the audience, disagreed with some of LaDuke's criticisms of the American government and society. "There are some things that come out of the military budget that are very good," he said. "She's the one who seems to be out of touch."

But most people in the audience, which gave LaDuke a standing ovation, seemed stirred by her message.

"People are very receptive to the things she had to say," said Jed Whittaker, an organizer for the Green Party in Alaska. "People know that fundamentally there are problems in this country and we need to find solutions that are equitable and respect all life."

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