Listen: White Earth #3 / final segment on land reacquisition

MPR’s Dan Gunderson reports on restoring the Anishinabe land of White Earth. Both tribal government and a land recovery project are working to regain control of reservation lands.

Segment highlights the differing visions of Chip Wadena, tribal chairman; Winona LaDuke, environmentalist; and tribal member Robert Shimek.

This is part 3 of 3 of land purchase series.


(00:00:00) The two people whose style and attitudes most vividly reflect the opposing Visions for the white Earth band of Ojibwe or anishinabe are chip Wadena and Winona Laduke chip Wadena runs the tribal government from a spacious new suite of offices on Main Street and Mahnomen out front is parked his blue pickup truck covered with chrome accessories across the front of the truck or the words Super Chief Wadena a compact soft-spoken man says Indians need to look to the
(00:00:28) Future yet. To make up your mind on what you want to do, you know where in a great technological age right now that is making strides that are causing this whole society to move. So rapidly that in order to keep up with that you almost have to adapt to it.
(00:00:51) And occasional vehicle rattles by on the gravel road outside a small rustic cabin on the shores of Round Lake about 30 miles from Mahnomen Winona Laduke is working the phone in her office a deck. Overlooking Round Lake Winona Laduke was born in California and says she grew up in a white Society feeling. She never belonged after college. She came two white Earth to search for the land of her ancestors. She found 90% of the reservation land no longer belong.
(00:01:21) To the Indians our community has suffered from the loss of our land. We have families that are no longer that they all died in the 1930s by the 1930s. They were gone from the loss of the land. Most of our people have been forced off reservation. Today. We have 20,000 tribal members about 5,000 live on reservation. So 3/4 of our people live off reservation. We consider them refugees.
(00:01:49) In 1867 the federal government set aside more than 800,000 acres of land for the white Earth reservation by the early 1900's Congress had removed restrictions on the sale of reservation lands in 1906 in Minneapolis Journal reporter described a disgraceful Carnival of land grabbing. There were accounts of Indians being coerced into selling their land for Whiskey In some cases land was simply stolen because Indians put their thumbprint on documents, they could not read Today only about 80,000 acres remain as tribal land recovering the land of her ancestors and restoring their culture and religion became the consuming passion of Winona Laduke in 1987. She formed the white Earth land recovery project today, the staff has grown to more than a half-dozen and the annual budget to $350,000. The focus is on bringing future generations of anishinabe people together with their past
(00:02:47) we still in our hearts as an issue. Big people always call this home. So the challenge for us is as we look as a nation. I think people having lived here for 8,000 10,000 years is how we will be continuing for all those years in the future. It's very much our responsibility and an essential part of that is is to regain control of our
(00:03:07) land tribal chairman chip Wadena also views the land as essential but for a different reason, he says land means power and power means Independence for people long dependent on the will of a white Society. Petit Wadena shares Winona Laduke passion for restoring the anishinabe land but his focus is on economic development and ultimate Financial Independence. The Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen is Chippewa Deena's proudest accomplishment. It has created 1100 jobs and brought eight million dollars in profits to the tribe last year what Dina says the money will help the try build the infrastructure to achieve the independence. He craves ship Wadena grew up on the reservation because boarding school teachers punished. What heinous father for speaking Ojibwe chip Wadi They never learned the traditional language. He's been tribal chairman of the 22,000 member white Earth band for 18 years and he calls himself the most powerful Indian in Minnesota. Wadena says, his people are at a critical transition point they must choose new ways to self-sufficiency. Even if the price is leaving their culture
(00:04:19) behind you have to divorce yourself to a certain extent from your culture, you know what I mean? And so that's where we're caught caught in between should I stay in step with? Worlds or should I you know retain my
(00:04:32) culture many tribal members share Chippewa Dina's vision of a growing reservation Economy based on gambling manufacturing and retailing but others say the anishinabe connection to the land is so deep. The people will not survive if they turn their backs on traditional
(00:04:47) ways. What is the land mean, you know? It's many things but mostly it's a way of life that. That sun is Shinobi. It's about being
(00:04:58) free Tribal member Robert simic spent his childhood roaming The Forest of the white Earth reservation poverty forced him to leave in search for a better life on the west coast. Now, he's back working with the land recovery project and hoping to teach his children and others the anishinabe way, you know, there are definitely
(00:05:18) those amongst us who are going to go on and seek higher education's seek positions. Power and authority and they should. but there are also those of us who are always going to be the ones that the others point to when somebody says well, where are the Indians we understand what it takes to make a sustainable as a culture and we'll take a stand for those
(00:05:52) things taking a stand has brought Robert simek and others into direct conflict with tribal chairman chip Wadena dissidents have a Tempted to disrupt tribal elections by occupying buildings and once stealing ballots. Now both sides say they have developed a grudging respect for each other with a common goal of regaining control of reservation lands, Robert simek and Winona Laduke say chip Wadena has created jobs and improve the standard of living on the reservation and they are happy with his aggressive plan to buy back reservation. Land Wadena says, he will not oppose the efforts of the land recovery project but his priorities Will remain better education and better jobs for Indians on the white Earth reservation. He's pragmatic about what it will take to accomplish his goals. He says the white man will not willingly help his people succeed. So he will play The White Man's games of money and power to get what he sees as best for his people. This
(00:06:49) casino has helped someone, you know, because it provides employment not only for Indian but not in like the finally starting to see that, you know, the Indian business or Indian existence is a positive. Is a plus for them, you know, seeing once we can keep proving that I think that that's how will the Welsh - sure ourselves as a game player
(00:07:09) here Winona Laduke of the white Earth land recovery project says she too will work within the white system to get what she sees as best for her people, but she is adamant. She does not want white Earth Indians to forget who they are.
(00:07:22) We fail as being brown white people. It's an inherent failure and I do not see why I should spend my time trying to do
(00:07:30) it the pace of restoring tribal lands has accelerated more than 4,000 acres has been purchased in the past two and a half years efforts are also underway to regain control of land owned by the state and federal governments the combined efforts of the tribal government and the land recovery project make this one of the best organized and most well-financed efforts ever to regain control of reservation lands. I'm Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio


In 2008, Minnesota's voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution: to protect drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater.

Efforts to digitize this initial assortment of thousands of historical audio material was made possible through the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. A wide range of Minnesota subject matter is represented within this collection.

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