Noted environmentalist sees dire consequences for food and energy missteps
The United States’ days as a global superpower will be numbered, unless her people learn to adopt more sustainable approaches to food, energy and caring for the earth.
That is what Winona LaDuke, founder and co-director of environmental justice agency Honor the Earth, believes. LaDuke, a member of the Anishinaabe Indian tribe, spoke on the topic of “Contemporary Indigenous Approaches to Sustainable Economies” at Wake Forest University on Sept. 23.
“The vast majority of your food is probably not from here. The average meal travels 1,400 miles from farm to table,” she told the students and faculty in Farrell Hall. [pullquote]“When the cost of fossil fuels goes up, what happens to the cost of food? It’s going to go up. This increases your food insecurity as well.”[/pullquote]
LaDuke, a resident of the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota, said her people are forward-thinkers who are governed by a belief that all living beings are related. The tribe makes decisions based on the impact they will have on future generations and place the Creator’s laws above all others, she said. LaDuke credits this mindset with the survival of American Indians.
[pullquote]“In America, I would suggest that we have the perception that man’s laws are higher than the Creator’s laws, that somehow you can legislate things and that’ll work out for you,” [/pullquote]she said. “We have a perception somehow that we are very, very smart and very, very clever. Instead of believing that we are all related, we’ve been really, really busy separating things.”
LaDuke stressed the importance of biodiversity, and cultivating what she calls “tough guys,” hardy crops that can survive in less than ideal conditions. As the global climate continues to change, the importance of such crops will increase, she said. She is currently working to help White Earth, which spends more than 85 percent of its food budget off of the reservation, develop a local food economy.
“My theory is that if we can do it, everybody can do it,” she declared. “In my community, every single statistic is against us … but we decided that things were probably not going to get fixed by someone else for us. This is what fixing looks like in a community like mine.”
There are 8,000 varieties of corn on her reservation, LaDuke said. She even cultivates a rare kind of squash, whose seeds were found on an archeological dig of an 800 year-old Indian village site near Greenbay, Wisc. Archeologists entrusted the strain, which had disappeared from the world, to LaDuke, who named it “Gete-Okosomin,” which means “really cool old squash.” The crop, which is now in its sixth generation and thriving, is an example of what can happen when people honor the earth, LaDuke said.
“Corn is created by the hands of a human with the spirit of a plant; it’s not just something that happens in a lab,” she said. “I think it’s important to remember that humans are a very important part of making greatness in the world, when we do the right thing.”
America’s current business model focuses too much on the short term, and could harm future generations, LaDuke said. She railed against destructive practices such as fracking, likening America’s dependance on nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuels to an addiction. An economy built on a resource that can’t be sustained is “a recipe for disaster,” she said.
“The economic system that we have is predicated on a set of teachings which are probably not going to work out in the long haul,” LaDuke declared. “…We have a much better shot at this if we adapt and mitigate, reduce our impact.”
LaDuke, a mother and grandmother, implored audience members to do whatever they can to effect positive change in the social and political landscape and protect the environment.
“The question is where we’re going and who’s in charge. As we say in Indian country, ‘You’re either at the table or you’re on the menu,’” she remarked. “…You guys are all young people. These are the legal paradigms and economic institutions that you are inheriting, and you’re going to need to change them.”
WFU students Maya Brown and Cyrus Rattler – both leaders in the school’s Native American Student Association – said LaDuke’s words resonated with them.
“I advocate for providing foods locally,” said Rattler, who is part Cherokee and serves as the organization’s vice president. “My family actually keeps a large garden in their yard, so I’ve definitely been exposed to the local food economy, and I think it’s a great idea.”
Co-President Brown, who has Creek and Cherokee heritage in her lineage, believes adopting a world view like LaDuke’s would be beneficial across the board in today’s society.
“I definitely feel like we are all connected and that we need to respect the life of everyone,” said the senior political science and psychology major. “I definitely agreed with a lot of her world views on the economy. We need to think about the future.”
For more information about Honor the Earth, visit www.honorearth.org.