Last Wednesday, well-known environmental activist and Native advocate Winona LaDuke woke up to a flurry of calls from friends and reporters after a friend had let it slip on Facebook that LaDuke was planning to run for White Earth Tribal Chair.
ICTMN caught up with her on the way to the dentist’s office. “This was certainly unexpected – I’ve spent the last three days holed up sewing my grandchildren’s outfits for the New Year’s pow wow. Damned Facebook,” she laughed, and then agreed to answer some questions.
Why tribal government and why now?
I’ve spent a long time advocating for localized economies and developing sustainable infrastructure. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is and take what I’ve learned back home. This is a very unique situation – it’s the first time in history that a council has been interested in the same issues I’ve spent my life working on.
The present structure isn’t working – just take a look at my own community. Our people are suffering, we have inadequate housing, meth and heroin abuse, suicide epidemics, and intergenerational poverty. Poverty is structural, we can overcome it.
What are you planning to bring to White Earth’s tribal government?
Four points: An Anishinaabe-centered economy, decriminalization of our people, tribal constitutional reform, and an understanding that what’s good for the land is good for the people.
I believe an economy centered around our own community will lead to success. Our current economy is hemorrhaging. We’re importing food, importing energy, even something like funerals are handled by a non-Native business. From cradle to grave, we’re looking externally. We need to localize our own food, our jobs. We need a strong private sector, in addition to a tribal government.
We need to decriminalize our own people and stop punishing the victims. We’ve got too many people on White Earth without a driver’s license, mostly due to driving without proof of insurance. It’s poverty-related, we have to stop criminalizing poverty. We need clean slate programs to wipe out low-level convictions and get people legalized and working again. Marijuana needs to be decriminalized — we need to allow for medical marijuana and hemp industry on White Earth. All of this can be started by tribal referendum.
The tribe’s constitution must be reformed. A constitution written by the federal government in 1934 is not the document that will carry our people forward. Having an open and transparent process for tribal voters is critical – we shouldn’t be trying to restrict anyone from having a voice. But we must also work with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. I personally don’t support blood quantum, we are the only human beings that are subject to ‘quantum.’ I believe we are from our Nation and we determine who is a member of our Nation. Continuing down this path of quantum politics has us looking at a few generations for the date that White Earth will be gone.
Finally, what’s good for the land is good for the people. We’ve got potato farmers spraying our tribal schools with pesticides. Groundwater contamination from agricultural industry, pipelines threatening to come though. This isn’t good for the land or for us.
What are your thoughts on the election?
I expect a robust election with good people running. I have deliberated on this for a long time, and really looked closely over the past year. Our current tribal chairwoman is under a lot of scrutiny right now, I recognize that it’s a really tough job to be a tribal leader. She’s done a lot of good work for our community the past 12 years. She has built a lot of infrastructure and relations. I have a lot of hopes that we will come to work together for all of us.
And your non-profit, Honor the Earth, how will that play a role?
The organization will continue forward, we are seeking to expand. We need new staff and new minds – there’s a lot of work to be done. I hope to leverage the resources and access I’ve gotten over the years for White Earth – wind and solar energy.
It’s time for me to be at home, to take everything I’ve learned and focus all of my energy on my people.
Where can folks learn more about your campaign?
Please check us out on Facebook!