Inside the Activist Studio with Winona LaDuke
by Liz Moore
I loved talking with Winona LaDuke at Inside the Activist Studio at EWU at the end of April. I had heard her speak at EWU when she was campaigning for Vice President as Ralph Nader’s running mate. As the saying goes, I don’t remember what she said, but I do remember how she made me feel: excited, hopeful, like change was possible and regular people could make it happen. As soon as I met Winona, I began to feel calm and looked forward to talking with her more. She’s very warm and down to earth, not ego-oriented.
For me, Inside the Activist Studio capped off my second year as the Activist in Residence at EWU, a new program based in the Women’s and Gender Studies program. Just this year, over 600 EWU students were exposed to PJALS and social justice work; about 150 attended my panels and workshops on mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, and 200 joined our email list. Several will participate in our internships and Young Activist Leaders program, and of course some connections will last a long time and flower later. It is a position with a lot of freedom, and I’ve really enjoyed building relationships with some faculty and learning more about the campus culture. It was a huge treat to end my time in that role by talking with Winona LaDuke.
Winona spoke about how cool she thinks it is that she and her sister are farming with a horse and plow, with six test plots of corn grown with different mixes of fish guts as fertilizer. “I’m trying to get petroleum out of my food supply,” she said. She says a neighboring tribe ends up with tons of fish guts as waste every day, and wouldn’t it be satisfying if those fish guts were a product that brought them income while fertilizing Winona’s corn?
Her Master’s degree is in Community Economic Development. Her White Earth Land Recovery Project’s goal, according to Wikipedia, is to buy back land within the reservation that had been bought by non-Natives and to create enterprises that provide work to Anishinaabe. By 2000, the foundation had bought 1200 acres, which it held in a conservation trust for eventual cession to the tribe. The non-profit is also working to reforest the lands and a revive cultivation of wild rice, long a traditional food. It markets that and other traditional products, including hominy, jam, buffalo sausage and other products. It has started an Ojibwe language program, a herd of buffalo, and a wind-energy project.
I asked her how she balances or navigates these forward-building projects with the need to fight off corporate or government policies or actions. She responded that she’d rather be plowing, but the Enbridge energy company is trying to build an oil pipeline across her reservation, so she has to go fight them. But nothing is an individual effort–while she is at meetings and fighting the company, her sister is home plowing.
After the talk was over, we talked more about the criminal justice reform organizing PJALS is doing here with Smart Justice Spokane. She shared some recent family experience and her own discovery that a the inmates of a nearby jail are 75% Native.
I will post a link to the video of Inside the Activist Studio on our website and hope you’ll join the conversation in the comments!