I had the opportunity to hear Winona LaDuke speak at a nearby college this week; someone had gifted my sister two tickets, and she shared one with me. My sister knows that I value the wisdom of indigenous elders and I'm interested in hearing from their matriarchs, enough so to be out late on a school night.
The theme of LaDuke's talk to students was an invitation to think about what kind of an ancestor they want to be. She shared the Anishinaabeg ancestors' prophecy from many generations ago that we are in the time of the 7th fire:
We have a choice between two paths. And one path, they said, was well-worn but scorched. And the other path, they said, was not well-worn, and it was green.
Fundamentally the question is, how's that going to be determined? Fifty years from now, what's my village going to look like?...And who's in charge of that? Where's our water going to come from? What will we be eating? What will we be thinking? How will we treat each other?
LaDuke considers herself privileged to belong to the land where food grows on water (native wild rice is found in northern Minnesota) and sugar comes from trees. She was no doubt aware when making a strong argument for local living and local thinking that most of the affluent Colby students in her audience are super transient or, as Mainers say, "from away."
She offered them this counsel: the U.S. frontier mentality of always thinking we can move on to a new place that is greener is over. She challenged them to settle down someplace because, "We're all here, and we've all got to work this out...Where's that place that you know? Where's that place that you care for?"
|The place that LaDuke cares for is threatened by another pipeline, a replacement for the now defunct Keystone XL pipeline project.|
The project threatens the Anishinaabeg homeland and the Great Lakes region, wherein lies 1/5 of the planet's fresh water.
(Source of this and the next two visuals: HonorEarth.org)
LaDuke herself grew up in Los Angeles and attended Harvard. She's traveled to Washington DC "riding horse" accompanied by her sister and her teenage sons. Now, for many decades she has lived where her great great great great greats harvested the wild rice, and she watches her grandchildren there playing that they are front line NoDAPL water protectors.
Her first act was asking the audience to wait while she retrieved her metal water bottle, explaining that she could not use the water in plastic bottles that the college had set out for her on the podium.
I started the applause for that wisdom; years ago I heard environmentalist Maude Barlow's counsel that boycotting bottled water was the most powerful thing we could do to protect the planet's aquifers.
LaDuke and family spent a lot of time with the water protectors in North Dakota and reporting on that was presumably a reason she'd been invited by the Environmental Humanities Subcommitee of Colby College. Only two young people in the audience had been to the noDAPL camps; that seemed to surprise LaDuke more than the plastic bottles. (My note: possibly one explains the other?) But, in her generous way, she noted that many people had supported the water protectors materially and spiritually.
There was more applause later when she shared her plans for making America great again. She's actively working to restore the biodiversity that was lost when 8,000 varieities of corn cultivated by indigenous, largely women, farmers were replaced by those "invented by a guy in a white lab coat working for Monsanto."
"When America was great there were 250 species of grass in the northern plains, and 50 milion buffalo. That's when America was great."
I reflect with sadness as I hear the cooing doves of early morning in the Maine woods where I belong. Thousands of miles away the ecological disaster of the many wars for empire unfolds; I woke up this morning remembering that yesterday my government dropped a bomb in eastern Afghanistan larger than the one that flattened Hiroshima. Air strikes on the tunnels of the Hindu Kush mountains betweeen Afghanistan and Pakistan to kill "terrorists" is an old trick that will do nothing to end the war there. Collateral damage includes the ancient irrigation systems devised by the people who belong to that land. The endless "war on terror" is a profit scheme, and not a sustainable one. As a local man in Kabul told me in 1979: "As long as there is one Afghan left alive, the Soviets will never rule our country."
LaDuke showed us data assembled by Honor the Earth, the organization she helped found, demonstrating that it is game over for oil. It's no longer profitable to drill for it, and the most extreme extraction schemes like fracking or processing tar sands increase the cost. But greed drives corporations to continue building pipelines that LaDuke predicts will soon be abandoned.
On Anishinaabeg land, LaDuke joins with people building solar and wind power sustainable energy solutions. She supports public art for their spiritual health. She is active and she is hopeful -- because that's the kind of ancestor she wants to be.