Listen: Winona LaDuke at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis

Native American environmentalist and writer Winona LaDuke speaks at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis on the difference between indigenous and industrial ways of thinking. She also discusses feminism, environmental racism and broken treaties.


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WINONA LADUKE: What I'd like to talk about today is Indigenous women's thinking about the next 500 years, the ideas of conquest and sustainable society from an Indigenous women's perspective.

I'd like to talk about that from the perspective of frontline grassroots native women who are working on issues of environment, issues of language recovery, issues of self-determination and why native women choose to work on these issues.

To start with I'm going to ask you all a question. Let me see, I look around out there. How many of you figure you could name 30 different kinds of Native people in North America?

Oh, not too-- how about 20? How are we doing on 20? I'm not going to call on you so you're OK, don't worry. You're safe back there. 20 is pretty easy for most of you? How about 30? You can get 20-10. Mostly in there at 10. All right.

The reason I ask that is because there's about 800 native communities in North America alone. For instance, there's about 500 or so reservations in the United States, but a place like Alaska, there's 200 native communities. In California there's 80 different native communities.

Now, there's no direct relationship between a reservation and a community or a nation of people because the Anishinaabeg, which is the kind of Indian person I am, Anishinaabeg it means people in our language, we're called Chippewas in the United States or Ojibwes and Canada, but we maybe have about 50-60, maybe 70 reservations or reserves, as they're called in Canada.

We're in the northern part of five American states and the Southern part of four Canadian provinces, so there's no direct relationship between peoples and reserves in terms of that figure. But you take someplace like the Yakima reservation in Washington State, and out there there's 14 different kinds of Native people that live on that one reservation, 14 different kinds on one reservation.

Factors is that Native people live all over this continent. And I'm going to ask you to rethink your thinking about Native people to understand where I'm coming from as a woman who works in the Native community. I'm going to ask you to rethink your geography of North America in terms of a native perspective.

Rather how I look at the continent is in terms of islands within the continent. Those islands being reservations or communities reserves all across the continent. Islands in a continent, that's kind of an Indian perspective of the continent. And in that context, there's some very big islands, and that's what I'll talk to you a little bit about.

When you go to Canada, which is the course, the country to the North-- was that 1 out of 7 Americans couldn't identify the US on a world map? Remember this USA Today? 1 out of 6 Americans. Anyway, Canada is the country to the north of the United States. When you go North of around the 50th parallel in Canada-- 50th parallel is just a little bit north of Edmonton.

When you go north of the 50th parallel in Canada, the majority population is native. 85% of the population north of the 50th parallel is native in Canada. If you look at that geographically in terms of the Canadian landmass, that's about the upper 2/3 of the Canadian landmass. The majority population is native. The upper 2/3 of the Canadian landmass in terms of land occupancy, the majority population is native.

Now think about a little tangibly what that means. There's a place called the Northwest Territories. Now, some of you are reading the paper a couple of years ago you might have noticed that the Northwest Territories was divided into two territories a couple of years ago. One is called Nunavut.

Nunavut is an Inuit territory. It's entirely governed by Inuit people, they have self-governance and they control this territory. The other area is still being in negotiations, and it'll be called something like Dinétah, which means the people's land in Diné. And those are the other people that live up there, Dinés.

That area, Nunavut, is the size of the Indian subcontinent. It's the size of the Indian subcontinent. It is 5 times the size of Texas. That's how big New Nevada is. That's how big of an area we're talking about.

And so I want you to think a little bit about that when you think about Indigenous people and Native people, because we have a different view of the world and it's perhaps something that, in my experience, we're not taught in the school systems. Now, I want to expand that thinking a little bit to the Western hemisphere and to the rest of the world.

In a Western hemisphere context, many countries in the Western hemisphere, the majority population is Native. Bolivia and Guatemala are two countries where the majority population is Native. There are countries like Ecuador where Native people have the legal rights to 41% of the land base. Nicaragua, a good percentage of the land base is also controlled by Native people.

Peru, Venezuela, many of these countries Native people control large areas of land within these countries in the Western hemisphere. And Native people or Indigenous people are not just people who are brown skinned. In fact, in Europe, Sweden, 31% of the land base of Sweden legally is supposed to be controlled by the Sami people.

Some of you probably know about Sami people. A lot of you are probably Swedish or part Swedish. Sami people are what we call the laplanders Over here. In the northern part of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Soviet Union, that whole area Sami people. So Indigenous people are all different colors of people.

There are common threads between Indigenous peoples around the world. And I'd like to just give you a little bit of a context of that. Internationally in the world today, they say that there are 5,000 nations and about 170 or 180 states.

Nations are nations of Indigenous people bonded by what is called of a nation or defined as a nation under international law, they share a common language, territory land or-- territory, history, culture, and governing institutions-- in governing institution. Those are indicators of a nation of people under international law.

And that is what Indigenous peoples possess. We have inhabited this area, for instance, for about eight 9,000 years, pretty long time, have this common language, territory, culture, history and governing institution. All around the world there are 5,000 Indigenous nations. Most things which are called states are members of the United Nations, members of the United Nations.

And most states that are members of the United Nations have been in existence since World War II, and beyond World War II. Most states are less than 200 years old. The United States is, of course, one of the oldest states that is in existence, but most nations have existed for thousands of years.

The political realm that occurs in the world today and the political dialogue is largely controlled by states, but nations continue to exist. And it is the struggle of nations and women within those nations that I'd like to talk to you about today, the struggle of Indigenous women and Indigenous nations.

Now, on a worldwide scale, Indigenous people are facing a number of circumstances, but these circumstances are very much largely the result of a long historical process and an historical process, which, I believe, and many other Indigenous people believe, is very much related to value differences and different worldviews, and that's what I'd like to talk to you a little bit about.

All of these issues are very much the subject of international debate. 1993 was the United Nations declared year of Indigenous peoples. 1995 begins the beginning of the United Nations decade of Indigenous peoples. So the issues that I'm talking to you about today are the issues that are very much at the forefront internationally of political dialogue.

The issues of Indian people in the state of Minnesota, Indigenous people in the state of Minnesota or Indigenous people in the United States are worldwide issues of Indigenous people, and they are very much issues of environment, of economics and of worldview.

I'd like to talk to you a little bit about this worldview. And I talk about this many times when I have an opportunity to visit with people, because I'm very much believe that how we are taught in this society is reflective of one worldview. We believe, and I obviously went to school for a number of years, that we are taught a broad worldview and we are given a broad education.

But I believe that the education that we are given in this United States is reflective usually of one worldview, and I would call that the industrial worldview. I would like to talk to you about a different worldview, that is what we call an Indigenous worldview.

And that's what I'd like to talk to you about now, because it is quite a bit different than an industrial worldview. And I'd like to present that to you because, in understanding this kind of theoretical framework of the difference between Indigenous thinking and industrial thinking, you will understand the crux of the struggle between Indigenous people and industrial society and the struggle of Indigenous women today.

Now, I'd like to issue a little disclaimer, which is that I don't know all things about all Indigenous people.

I just know a few things about some Indigenous people, and my experience and my discussion of these issues and this worldview comes from my opportunity to have listened to hundreds of Indigenous people testify at the United Nations or be in ceremony, or participate in tribal meetings or be at powwows or be in social meetings.

And also read many Indigenous scholars. So my kind of synthesis of these concepts is something which comes from a number of people, and I just wanted to explain that a little bit.

In my experience, there are many common threads in Indigenous thinking and perhaps the basic common thread of most Indigenous thinking is the idea that natural law is preeminent. Natural law is preeminent it's the highest law. It's higher than the laws made by nations, made by states and made by municipalities.

Indigenous societies believe that one would do well to fashion one society to live in accordance with natural law, because to not do so would in fact be foolish, to not try to live in accordance with natural law would be foolish. So over the years we have determined or tried to come to a way to live in ways that are in accordance with natural law.

It is my experience, and I will suggest to you that Indigenous people are not perfect, but the fact is that Indigenous societies are the only example of having lived in the Western hemisphere sustainably, we have intergenerational residence in the same place for thousands of years, and that is an example of sustainable living and that there is perhaps something that can be learned from that way of living, and that way of thinking that brings that about.

What have we observed about natural law that has allowed us to bring our way of living into accordance with natural law? There are many things. First of all, we have observed, for instance, that things which are natural are cyclical, things which are natural are cyclical. The moons, the tides, the seasons, our bodies, all the things which are natural are cyclical.

That is why we say what you do today will affect you on the rebound because it is cyclical. That is why many Indigenous people will always say that. What you do now will affect you in the future. Time in an Indigenous worldview is in itself cyclical. Time in an Indigenous worldview is in itself cyclical. We have observed that most Indigenous societies and most Indigenous spiritual practice is about the process of balance.

Our society and our practice is about restoring balance. We do not try to eliminate what is called evil or bad. We try to bring a balance between good and evil. That is our practice because it is in that balance how the society and how the world continues to live. And natural law and natural order is not about just having good, it is about a balance between good and evil.

In our languages and in Anishinaabemowin, most nouns are animate, most nouns are animate. In my language, "manoomin," the word for wild rice is animate, it's animate. "Mandamin," the word for corn, is animate in my language. "Asin," the word for stone, is animate in my language.

Most nouns are animate in our language. What that means is that in an Indigenous worldview there is a perception that which is around us is alive, it has standing, it has spirit on its own. A sin, a stone, even a stone has spirit on its own.

So in most Indigenous ceremonies and in most traditional economic practices like harvesting wild rice or harvesting medicinal plants or harvesting maple sugar, like I did this last week, we spent a great deal of time reckoning with the natural world and making what is an offering, reckoning with that spirit, asking that spirit to give itself to you because that is how you will be able to continue eating.

We have a practice which anthropologists call reciprocity, which means that when we take, we always give. So when I go and harvest maple sugar or maple sap up in our woods, up on White Earth Reservation, what I always do is I always offer saima tobacco when I harvest. And I always offer that before I begin to harvest to give thanks.

And then I only take what I need and I leave the rest. That's our practice, that's our practice. It's called reciprocity. In our language, that practice is called Minobimaadiziwin-- Minobimaadiziwin. It means the good life or the alternate translation is continuous rebirth. Minobimaadiziwin is kind of our code of ethics, our law in traditional Anishinaabe society.

It's our law of how you harvest, it's how you treat men and women, how you treat your children. That's our law, Minobimaadiziwin. It's different than these laws in America, but it's our laws.

Now I'd like to contrast this way of thinking with what I call industrial thinking. I believe that we are taught industrial thinking in this society. I believe that we're taught a whole different way of thinking than Indigenous thinking. For instance, I believe in this society we are taught about man's dominion over nature, man's dominion over nature, as opposed to natural law.

There's an underlying premise in this society, which is man's dominion over nature. The idea that man has a God given right to all that is around him. I usually say it is around him. Man has a God given right to all that is around him and its value is in relationship to man. This is what they call a utilitarian benefit. Or even water rights now is allocated in terms of its utilitarian benefit to man.

The relationship of all that is around to man, man's dominion over nature. This is transferred over the years through philosophers like John Locke, who talks about taking that from nature, adding his labor to it and making it his own. That's a basic concept and a basic building block of American society. This idea of man's dominion over nature and man's God given right to all that is around him.

The extension of in this day and age goes several ways, from an Indigenous point of view we call what is happening now the commodification of the sacred, the commodification of the sacred. It is where all that is alive has spirit and standing to the Indigenous people have value now in terms of resources. They are valued in terms of resources and their beneficial use to man.

That is the value this society views them in. So, for instance, in our way of looking a tree has standing on its own. It has a right to live as a tree. In fact, the Haida people in the Northwest Coast know how to take a plank off a tree and leave the tree standing when they make their houses. I'll tell you, if Weyerhaeuser knew how to do that, I might listen to them, Weyerhaeuser knew how to do that.

Our people have always practiced this different way of thinking. But in this society I believe we have come to the point where everything is commodified. For instance, the Hopi people will tell you that the Black Mesa coal field is alive, it's the lungs of Mother Earth, it's the lungs of Mother Earth. Peabody international or Utah international or General Electric will tell you that it's the Black Mesa coal field and it has 22 billion tons of coal in it, and it's worth what it's worth, at $20 a ton on the market.

That's the difference in the way of thinking. We call it the "commodification of the sacred." A third concept which I believe permeates the society, and I think even permeates progressive thinking in the society and thinking in the feminist movement in the society, is what we call "Linear thinking."

Obviously, I went all the way through school in this country and I know you all did. There's this way of thinking, which has to do with how you're even taught time in this society. Now, remember how you were all taught time? Time was taught on a timeline. Remember the timeline?

My experience with the timeline was that the timeline in the United States usually began around 1492, continued from there on out with some dates that were of importance to someone. That's how time was taught in this country, is on this timeline. This is called a linear perception of time. It's different than a cyclical perception of time.

I'm going to suggest to you that there's some other values associated with this linear way of thinking. For instance, the idea of progress, the idea of progress. Something that you want to have in this society as progress. That's an indicator of success in the society, progress. Progress is defined in the society by indicators like economic growth and technological advancement. Those are indicators of progress in this society, economic growth and technological advancement.

There are other notions that go along with the concept of progress. In some other societies, for instance, progress might be defined by least number of people on death row. That might be an indicator of progress in some other societies, but this country has, I think, the highest number per capita of individuals on death row of any industrialized country.

It is not obviously an indicator of progress in this country. So there's different paradigms or views of what is progress. I believe that there are other values associated with this linear way of thinking. For instance, it's my experience that a notion of progress has to do with concepts like the wild and the cultivated, the wild and the cultivated.

The wild being the vast West, the manifest destiny view of America where there's kind of a God given right to a frontier, to tame it and bring it under control, to bring it under cultivation as a God given right. I believe that this is a view associated with progress and it's a very American view.

I believe there's another notion associated with progress, for instance, the idea of the primitive and the civilized. The idea that some peoples are primitive and other peoples are civilized. I believe that this is the same notion associated with this linear way of thinking, the idea that some peoples are primitive and some peoples are civilized.

In my experience, in Harvard anthropology classes and my experience in different schools in this country, people who are primitive are usually people of color. People who are viewed as civilized are usually people of European descent. That is why, for instance, at Harvard University, they do not teach Native American art or Native American music in the Fine Arts department. They teach it in anthropology.

That is true in many universities across this country because we are viewed historically as primitive peoples. I would suggest to you that perception of some people being primitive and other people being civilized has a value associated with it.

Primitive peoples are viewed as people who need to come along further, people who have not quite developed up to the standards of American standards, and people who are not as-- are somewhat less advanced, are somewhat more inferior than people who are civilized.

I would suggest to you that this view of the primitive and this view of the civilized is also racist because it generally has to do with color of skin. Those are some concepts that I wanted to discuss with you to give you a little context of the difference between Indigenous thinking and industrial thinking.

This does not have to do with a color of people. I believe it has to do with a way of thinking. And I bring this to you to discuss, I bring this to you for you to think about, not to cause you embarrassment or not to make you angry, but to ask you to think about these views and to perhaps think of expanding your worldview, to allowing other worldviews in there, and recognizing that other worldviews exist.

It has been the experience of Indigenous peoples that the conflict between these two worldviews, that of the Indigenous and that of the Industrial, has been manifest in terms of Holocaust. That is our experience. The reality is that the Holocaust, which occurred in the Western hemisphere, is unparalleled in the world.

The reality is that this society has caused the extinction of at least 2,000 nations of Indigenous people in the Western hemisphere alone and has caused the extinction in the past 150 years of more species than since the Ice Age. That is the reality.

The fact is that an individual named Bartholomew de Las casas, who was something like a contemporary of Columbus, living about 60 years later, Catholic priest, he said that in the 50 years following Columbus's arrival in the Western hemisphere, 50 million Indigenous people had perished in Central America alone, 50 million.

Those numbers were repeated throughout the hemisphere, throughout the hemisphere. That story is a story of Holocaust, that is a story of genocide. Now, it's not appropriate for me to say that my Holocaust is worse than someone else's Holocaust, but it is absolutely essential for Indigenous people and for me to demand that that Holocaust is recognized.

What has happened in this America is that Holocaust is not recognized. What has happened in this America is that nobody knows anything about Indigenous people because nobody talks about it. Nobody talks about what happened historically or today. That's why when I ask that question, how many people can name 10, 20, 30 different kinds of Indigenous people? People cannot name them because people were never taught anything about Native people.

We are invisible. That's what has happened. What has happened over a period of time is that Indigenous people have become invisible. That invisibility has to do with the fact that today, if I ask you what kind of Native people you can name, in my experience, most people can name Indians from westerns, Indians from westerns.

They can name Sioux, they can name Cheyennes, Navajos, Cherokees, Kiowas, Comanches. Indians from westerns is what most people can name. So almost the entire image of a Native person is usually a Native man to start with, and aside from that, it is usually the image of an Indian in a western, or an image that is created almost entirely in Hollywood.

So the consequences that Native people do not become full human beings, instead we are caricatures of human beings. We are caricatures of human beings, we exist only in TV, only on paper. We are not full human beings with full human rights, or we exist as mascots of sports teams. That's an obvious extension of that same view where we are trivialized.

The long term impact of that is that over the years, the denial that America has gone through on Indigenous people has meant that over the years, America has developed such a denial that there is no victim so there was no crime. If there is no Indigenous person, if no one has existed, then nothing happened. There was no victim so there was no crime. That is what that is about.

Our struggle and the challenge of people of conscience in this society, I believe, is to openly address, not only what has happened, but to move past that. I do not find that guilt is particularly a useful emotion. I don't find that it's useful whatsoever. What I find is useful is transforming guilt into change, into changing the circumstances in which people live today.

And that's what I'd like to talk to you about now, the circumstances of Native women and the circumstances of Indian communities and why native women take up the struggle that they do in this society.

Now, many people ask me, what is the status of Native women? And why is it that Native women are not so engaged in the struggle over feminism or women's rights in this country? And I would like to try to answer that in a couple of ways. I'd like to first give you the theoretical answer to that. And then I'd like to tell you about a couple of women.

The big theoretical answer to that, from my perspective, not speaking for all Native women in the whole world, is that in my experience, native women or Indigenous women in their own societies have better standing and better status than they have in industrial society. And that is why native women are involved in many communities in a process of what we call retraditionalization.

Retraditionalization, which is about recovery of culture, recovery of language, recovery of ceremony, recovery of land, recovery of status of Native women. Now, I'll tell you a little bit about this. There is no such thing in our experience of really having patrilineal or matrilineal societies. I think, in my experience, most Native societies are very much balanced between the both.

Men have certain roles, women have certain roles. But women have a much higher standing in our experience than they have historically had in American society. And that's for a number of reasons, some of which may have to do with the fact that in Earth-centered religions women are the representation of the Earth, and women are viewed as the center of the nation.

There's a great deal of reverence towards Native women. They say in Indian country many times that men have the first say, but women have the last say. That works good, that works good pretty much in Indian country. They can talk a long time, but we could always say something at the end. That's fine, let them talk.

In this society it is our experience that, when women go from being a centerpiece of their nation, when the process of assimilation comes into Indian communities or when tribal council system or job programs come into Indian communities, those systems many times replicate the dominant society's power structure.

So in a society in which power is distributed largely based on race, class, and sex, native women are at the bottom. We're at the bottom. And so we are at the margin of that society. We are proof realized from decision making. We do not have the same economic control as we have in our own society.

So why would you want to go to all the trouble of trying to get into the center of this society when you could be in the center of your own society? That's a question I'd ask you.

In our communities we find that we feel better, we feel more full as a human being and that process of retraditionalization and that process of recovering and remembering who we are. And that is the process that many Native women are involved in. That is why today around the world, movements like the Chipko movement in India, Indigenous women are fighting deforestation in India.

Why in the native Hawaiians struggle the leadership of the native Hawaiians struggle for sovereignty as Native women? Why Carrie and Mary Dann, two Western Shoshone ranchers that live out in New Segovia-- are what the United States calls the state of Nevada, Shoshones lived there maybe 10-20,000 years. I figure new Segovia sounds pretty good to me. Why they last year won the Right Livelihood Award?

Because they have been standing up to the Department of Energy to the United States government who has been trying to drive them off their land for about 20 years. Why would the United States government want to pursue two women in their 60s and drive them from being self-sufficient ranchers onto welfare.

That's what I got to ask, that's what I got to ask. What is the good of that the American taxpayers forcing them women off their land onto the tax rolls? That's a question I got to ask. Those women won the Right Livelihood Award last year. These women are indicative of women around the world that are in a struggle.

Women like Rigoberta Menchu who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize. All across the world, Indigenous women are saying, this is enough and we are struggling to defend our communities, because for us the environmental and social and economic issues that are in the world are very much women's issues.

They are very much the issues of people who need to survive, and women, as mothers, I myself the mother of two small children-- I realize that my children will not have an ecosystem. My children will not have a land base. My children will not have a place to continue their traditions as Anishinaabeg or as [INAUDIBLE]. They are both Cree and Ojibwe people.

They will not have the ability to continue their traditions in their essential form, as who they are, in relationship to the creator if I do not struggle to defend their ecosystem, because they will have no ecosystem in which to live. They will have no place in which to pray.

On a worldwide scale, Indigenous people are in this struggle. 50 million Indigenous people live in the world's rainforests. A million Indigenous people are slated to be relocated for dam projects in the next decade, whether it is the Narmada Project in India or whether it is the James Bay Hydroelectric project in Northern Quebec, or similar projects in Northern Manitoba, which NSP, Northern States Power, has a single largest contract for, all across the continent.

Indigenous people are on the front lines of the nuclear waste struggle and on the uranium mining struggle. 2/3 of the uranium in the United States is on Indian reservations, about the same amount in Canada. One third of all Western low sulfur coal is on Indian reservations. A good portion of oil and gas is on Indian reservations in this country.

And we have the dubious honor of being recipients of the country's nuclear waste policy and toxic waste policy. Over the past decade, 100 separate proposals to dump toxic waste in Indian country have been forwarded to poor reservations in this country, places like Shannon County on Pine Ridge. The single poorest County in the United States received a proposal to take toxic and toxic waste from the city of Minneapolis or from this whole region.

Thus proposals that are being forwarded and from places like New Jersey and nuclear waste. The government set up an office called the Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator, went out specifically targeting Indian country, and 16 of the recipients of the nuclear waste research grant MRS, Monitor Retrievable Storage, which I believe is an oxymoron of nuclear waste are Indian community, 16 of the recipients.

There are three that are in phase two. Mescalero being one of them. Mescalero of course, being Northern states powers, way out for its Prairie Island. They are hoping to dump at Mescalero reservation. I think that's wrong. I think Indians taking nuclear waste is wrong. I think that these utilities should stop producing nuclear waste, that's what I think. And nobody should be having to take that nuclear waste.

Indians shouldn't be having to take that nuclear waste. All across North America those circumstances as well as around the world. Now I'm going to tell you about some of the women that are involved in these struggles, some of the women that I had an opportunity to work with and some people from my own community. I'm going to tell you two stories, two images of Native women today.

One image is a 70-year-old Navajo woman, Diné woman, named Katherine Smith. She's standing on her land where she lived all her life. Her great, great, great grandparents lived there. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal government is down there trying to put a fence through her land and move her.

She's fighting them. She says, you can't put that fence here. She's standing there and every day they come out with their fencing crew. One day, Catherine Smith goes out there with a shotgun and she says, you can't come on here no more. She only talk in Navajo to them. And she fires that shotgun over their head.

The year is about 1979 and the place is North Eastern Arizona. This is the image of Native women today. What drives a woman to do that? That's what I'm asking you. This is not a violent woman, this is a woman who is tired. She is tired of being told she has to move, tired of being told that she won't be able to live there no more.

Another image, the year is 1969, and there's a 10-year-old girl living in Southern Oregon who receives a check for $94.60 from the Federal government. Comes in an envelope with no demarcation as to what that check is for. Check for $94.60.

1969 in Southern Oregon. That little girl was me. That was a check for Northern Minnesota. $0.14 an acre, $0.14 an acre payment for Northern Minnesota. That's what that's about. Now I'm going to tell you these two stories and tell you about the struggles that have ensued from them.

Katherine Smith's story is a story of America's energy policy. It's an energy policy based on Indians historically and today. When I went down to work in the Navajo Nation in 1979-- 1978 actually, I went down there and I was working for Navajo people.

I was at Harvard and I used to find these government documents that said perhaps the solution to the radon emission problem is to zone the land into uranium mining and milling districts so as to forbid human habitation. Los Alamos Scientific Labs in 1978.

Now the fact is that the federal government knew full well that uranium caused cancer, knew full well that radon emissions from uranium mines was going to cause cancer, but there's over 1,000 uranium mines on the Navajo reservation. When I went down there to work, at that time there was 42 operating uranium mines, 10 uranium mills, five coal fired power plants and four coal strip mines on or adjacent to the Navajo reservation.

Men were being sent underground into uranium mine shafts that had no ventilation in them. They were drinking the water from uranium mine at the bottom of the uranium mine. The Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union came down there and did a survey or did a test down there in 1979.

When they finally started getting ventilation fans in there, the gas ran out in the middle of a test. The government knew full well that those men were going to die from lung cancer. They knew full well, but they figured those were Navajos, they lived in an isolated place and nobody would notice. And that's how they got the uranium for most of these nuclear power plants around here, in circumstances just like that.

They talk about nuclear power being safe. I will tell you and the Navajo people will tell that it's not. The fact is that almost all of those men who worked in the uranium mines died from lung cancer. The women who washed their clothes got skin cancer.

And according to the March of Dimes in a 1982 study of the Indian Health Service Unit at Shiprock, they found that the birth defect rate was 8 times the National average in that area. What causes that is radiation, that's what caused that. Those people were entirely subjected to radiation, and Los Alamos knew that land should have been zoned into uranium mining and milling districts.

They knew that, but they subjected people to that kind of radiation. That has continued over the years. In one year, 1975, the Navajo Nation exported enough energy resources to fuel the needs of the state of New Mexico for 32 years in one year.

At the same time, that same year, 85% of all Navajo households had no electricity in them, 85%. That is an unfair set of relations. Today that is called environmental racism, that is what that is called. In other terms, I believe that is called colonialism, that is something that we are not always comfortable in talking about, but I would suggest to you that is what that is called.

Where someone produces for someone else and someone bears all the burden and, that is what is going on down there in that community. Today the lights in Los Angeles, the lights in Las Vegas, the lights in Phoenix, the lights in Albuquerque are still fueled by Navajo coal and uranium. That's where it's coming, from those communities.

And all across the Western United States, even NSP, North Cheyenne coal. Uranium from Saskatchewan, Native communities up there, and nuclear waste dumps on Prairie Island, an energy policy that is based on Indians. We fought for a long time to close down nuclear power plants in this country. We had some success.

The proposal of the Nixon administration was to have 1,000 nuclear power plants in the United States by the year 2000. You know how many there are now? There's about 108, 108 nuclear power plants in the United States. You know why there's 108? Because people like you and people like your children got out there and organized and demonstrated against nuclear power.

That's why there's only 108, instead of 1,000. And it was well worth it. The problem is that we didn't stop the level of consumption in this country. So what happened is that most northern utilities contracted with Canada for hydroelectric power. They put up a huge set of dams all the way across northern Canada. They have an area half the size of Lake Erie flooded in Northern Quebec.

James Bay Power project, the single largest hydroelectric project in North America that flooded a whole set of Cree villages and flooded and devastated four river systems. They took four rivers, turned them from free flowing rivers the size of the Mississippi into a series of toxic sinks that are contaminated with mercury.

Mercury levels in Northern Quebec are 6 times the allowable level. And people there, you know how they have those fish consumption advisories out for Minnesota lakes much worse than Northern Quebec, Northern Ontario? Goes all the way across the North, villages in Northern Manitoba.

There's a village called Cross Lake, another village called Norway House, where they took 634 Indian people from-- they were living self-sufficient on the land, got 75% of their food from the land. Flooded their land, flooded all of their land base and moved them into a housing project built by the Canadian government.

All of those people are on welfare now. All of those people are on welfare. And then you wonder how come native Canadians have a suicide rate 10 times the National average. And people wonder how come in those villages in Northern Ontario, Northern Manitoba and a lot of Indian villages, alcoholism is so high.

It's because people lose control of their lives. They lose control of their destiny. They lose control of their land. Indian people do not choose to be victims of these circumstances. These are circumstances forced upon us. That is why, for instance, in many places, domestic violence rates increase substantially after development projects come in.

Those circumstances could be mimicked, could be replicated in Minnesota. I will tell you that frankly. I will tell you the next story, which is the story of my story.

I was raised in Southern Oregon and I always used to wonder as a young child how come I wasn't raised out here. I used to always wonder, how come where is all the other Indians? I was the only Indian person in the school system. I was the darkest kid in my school.

It used to be a lot of racism in Southern Oregon schools. I used to get called a lot of names. When I grew up, I determined that I'd go work in Indian country, and I spent the past 17 years working in Indian communities trying to figure out exactly who I was and how I fit in there.

Everybody used to say, why don't you come home? Why don't you come home to White Earth? Why don't you come home? So finally in '82, when I graduated from Radcliffe I said, I'll go. I'm going to come home. I went back up to my reservation. I tried to find our land. Our land was gone.

Most of the land inside my reservation is gone. 90% of the land inside the White Earth Reservation is held by non-Indians. So I began to say, I began to question things. I said, what happened to our land? How come we don't have land? I began to question, why our circumstances were like that?

I'm going to tell you this story because this is the story of Minnesota, that's what this story is. In 1867, our people set aside a reservation 36 miles by 36 miles in size, 1,200 square miles in Northern Minnesota. Good land. It's between Fargo and Bemidji, Detroit Lakes and Bemidji.

We set aside that land because we said that could supply our people for the seven generations to come. No one forced us into that reservation, we chose that reservation. But I have a theory that the better land you have, the less of that you have today, as Native people.

That's my theory and that's my experience at White Earth. Because what happened is that land speculators and timber barons set their eyes upon our rich lands and stole them. That is what happened to our reservation. In 1889, the Federal government passed a law called the Allotment Act, where they divided our land into individual parcels of land, which was illegal under our treaty.

The intent of the government was to civilize the Indian and teach us the concept of private property. What they taught us was that land could be stolen, that is what they taught us, because very shortly thereafter, the government, the state of Minnesota began taxing our land.

So people who could read-- not read or write English, who legally under the law were in the Department of War, were considered wards of the federal government whose land was tax exempt. Their land was taxed. It was totally in violation of law.

250,000 acres of my reservation was taken for taxes. There's a lot of land that was taken by cheating. Some land was sold. Some Indian people just sold their land. Some of them sold it for $4, 80 acres.

Some of them sold it for 200 bucks, 80 acres. Some of them made money. I don't want to say that no one did. My great, great grandmother, [INAUDIBLE], she lived in Many Point Lake. She couldn't read or write English. And once a year they used to get treaty payments for the rest of Northern Minnesota.

That's what the $94.60 was for. I used to get these treaty payments once a year. And so she had run short of money. She had a bill at the trading post, kind of like a charge card a long time ago. She wanted to pay that off, so she went to borrow $50 from this guy named Lucky Waller, who lived in Detroit Lakes.

Lucky Waller is what you call a loan shark now. You'd call him a loan shark. He used to borrow a lot of money to them Indians. So she went in there and she said I'm borrow $50 till three payment time. He said, OK. He said, sign here. She thumb printed a paper. He gave her $50 and she went out.

She came back three months later and she said, here's that $50. He said no. You keep that money. I bought that land. He had an 80 acre piece of Lakeshore on Many Point Lake, which is today the Many Point Boy Scout Camp held by the Viking council of Boy Scouts.

Some of you probably had kids that went to that camp. Nobody even tells those Boy Scouts that camp in the middle of a reservation, and no one tells them how they got it. It was stolen. All our family was dispossessed like that.

My great, great uncle was shell shocked from World War I. His land was sold, was taken away by the federal government. We are legally wards of the federal government, yet the federal government allowed our land to be gone, to be taken illegally. Minor sales, full blood sales. Non consents 13-year-old people thumb printing deeds in boarding school.

That's how our land was taken. By 1920, all of our land, 99% of it was in non-Indian hands. Most of it had been clear cut by Weyerhaeuser, by Pillsbury, by JJ. Hill. By 1920, many of our people were dying from diseases, tuberculosis. A quarter of our people had TB. About half of our people died from diseases.

By 1930, the remaining half of those who remained, half of them were off reservation, refugees in our own land. The Indian population in Minneapolis, 3/4 of our people live in Minneapolis. Today we have 20,000 tribal members, 3/4 of our people live off reservation. Most of them live in Minneapolis. Two or three generations of poverty living in Minneapolis.

Indian people remain the poorest people in the state of Minnesota. And today our land situation is not much different. 90% of the land inside my reservation is held by non-Indians. The federal, state, and county governments remain the single largest landholders on my reservation. Federal state, and county governments.

And we have no legal recourse to get our land back. I have for a decade been trying to get my land back through the courts. The courts in 1987 ruled that we were supposed to have filed within seven years of the original time of taking to recover our land.

So although my great, great grandmother could not read or write English, although she was legally a ward of the federal government-- I am a ward of the federal government legally under the law. I'm B200026. That's my number. Federal ID enrollment number.

Legally I'm a ward of the federal government. Legally the federal government was responsible for our state. Although we could not read or write English, we had no money, we had no land. My great, great grandmother was supposed to have found an attorney and filed a lawsuit for return of land in 1907 or in 1920. That's what the court has ruled.

We have no legal recourse for return of our land. So we are in a situation where our situation remains the same. We are in a situation where, as Native women, as Native people, we must look towards how we can rebuild and recover our community.

So having exhausted our legal recourse, we look towards options and alternatives. I founded a project called "The White Earth Land Recovery Project." Our intent is to seek to have our land returned through negotiations with large absentee landholders, through negotiations with the federal state and county governments.

I'm trying to get the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge returned. If you all could help me with senators Durenberger and Wellstone, Bruce Vento and the Minnesota Congressional Delegation, if you would consider supporting legislation like ours. I am not asking for Northern Minnesota.

I'm not asking to dispossess non-Indians. I'm asking for return of federal lands inside our reservation borders. That is what we are trying to do. Then we would like the state lands back. $250,000 of our acres of our reservation held by federal state and county governments. Our project acquires land.

We've acquired thousand acres of land, burial grounds, maple sugar groves, sundance grounds. That's what we've recovered. And we work on language restoration. Anishinaabemowin is one of four languages not predicted to be extinct by the year 2050. We are trying to recover it in our own reservation.

Our struggle is indicative of the struggle of Native women throughout the continent and throughout the hemisphere and throughout the world. And as we embark on the decade of Indigenous peoples, which begins in 1995, I challenge you to embrace this struggle and understand the implications for North America and the strength of cultural diversity, as well as biological diversity.

What the strength of listening to people talk in their own language in the state of Minnesota would do for the state of Minnesota? That that cultural diversity is as beautiful as biological diversity. I challenge you to bring education about Native people in a meaningful way into the school systems of Minnesota.

Do what the state of Wisconsin has. Bring native people, native languages, native history from our perspective, native astronomy, native medicine, into these school systems. We are not just an arts and crafts class. We have every discipline in our Indigenous intellectual thought.

I encourage you to support the return of state and federal land inside reservations to our people, recognize and support that. I encourage you to look at the moral and ethical and long term issues like that of Prairie Island. Dumping nuclear waste on an island in the Mississippi doesn't make sense with natural law. It doesn't.

I think that we are smarter than that, and we should be looking out for the next seven generations from now. I think that, as the people who pay the bill for power in the state of Minnesota, we should demand that NSP look at alternative energy now and begin a project of disembarking from its nuclear and coal program, and embarking on an alternative energy project, an alternative energy program.

Cutting our consumption, beginning conservation, but look at jobs. They say jobs will be lost, but I'll tell you that there's 10 times as many jobs in renewable energy as there are in the capital intensive jobs in nuclear energy and coal-fired energy.

And finally, looking at issues of consumption and human rights. Remember what we consume in this country is too much. We consume a third of the world's resources in this country. And what that means is that requires a constant intervention into other people's lands and other people's territories to get those resources.

I challenge you to look at that over the long term, to figure out how to live more simply and remember that quality of life, quality of life should not be attached to income. It should be attached to clean water, clean air, status of women, status of children, quality of intellectual thought, quality of culture. Those I believe are indicators, not always associated with money.

And finally, I challenge you to work with other women around the world to bring this society back in order with natural law, and to, in that process, regain the rightful status of women on this Earth.




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