Activist Winona LaDuke speaks at SBU on social change

By Caitlyn Morral

[Photo courtesy of]

Native American environmentalist Winona LaDuke intended to open the eyes of St. Bonaventure students with her talk on “Race, Gender and the Environment.” As a member of the White Earth reservation in Minnesota, LaDuke raises awareness and protests in order to protect the world’s natural surroundings.

In the past, she has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. She has also been nominated as one of Time Magazine’s fifty most promising leaders in America under the age of forty in 1994.

LaDuke kicked off her lecture in Dresser Auditorium on Thursday, Dec. 3 with a video produced by the indigenous environmental organization that she directs, Honor the Earth. The activist followed by briefing the audience with stories of young women fighting for what they believe in, as well as pollution and struggles within the natural environment.

The discourse continued with a slideshow of several young women who have been fighting for the same environmental causes as LaDuke, including Hawaiian musician Hawane Rios, spiritual leader and chief of the Wintu Tribe Caleen Sisk and Greenpeace Canada campaign member Melina Laboucan-Massimo.

Laduke also informed students about was the dangers of fracking. By drilling into the ground and extracting oil, gas companies are causing much more harm than they are good.

One such case involves the people of the Wintu tribe, who are struggling with the fracking and possible flooding of the McCloud River in California. The slideshow included a picture of the Wintu people underneath the McCloud River, captioned with, “This dam might drown this culture.”

“Your land rights have a direct relationship to the price of real estate,” said LaDuke. “These people continue in their battle, and the drought brought on by the weather and fracking have caused the water levels to rise in the dam in the last couple of years.”

The fracking-induced flooding of the Shasta Dam in the river would diminish much of the sacred places and homelands of the Wintu tribe.

Growing up as a Native American, working and being a part of the community was what came first.

“I was always told to do the right thing,” said LaDuke. “I work for my people and for my community. Like working in any place, we all have special skill sets and gifts. It is important to use them, because our communities need them.”

Because the Native American communities that LaDuke is involved with are very native with their surroundings, nature is a critical part of their lifestyles.

“Our spiritual practice is land-based,” said LaDuke. “Our religions are re-affirmation religions, where we reaffirm our beliefs every year through ceremonies. A practice like this does not exist in a book, it exists in a place.”

LaDuke also spoke about Honor the Earth’s fight with the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry tar sands across the country in a toxic manner. The dispute with them was illustrated in a piece of LaDuke’s artwork, in which she had painted people on horseback fighting a black snake, representative of the massive pipeline.

“The pipeline that we are fighting cannot even afford to keep it going, because the price of oil is so low now,” said LaDuke. “In the meantime, they have created this insane social system which is entirely dysfunctional.”

Freshman and journalism and mass communication major Joe Fullmore became more aware about the damage that comes with fracking after attending the lecture.

“I would say that I learned the most about fracking from after hearing the talk,” said Fullmore. “There are a lot more problems going on with it right now than I thought, and I am glad that I know more about it now.”

Freshman and strategic communications major Ethan MacKrell was also introduced to some new information.

“I thought that all of the visuals and pictures that she showed us were very interesting,” said MacKrell. “I definitely learned a lot more about environmental problems than I had known before.”

In terms of the economic and environmental crises that the world faces today, LaDuke mentioned how, even though we may live in a first world country, there are still many people who do not have running water because of the destruction caused by fracking and the man-made devastation of natural resources. She highlighted the fact that water is said to be a given right, but there are still many who cannot have it in their own homes.

Sophomore and education major Madeleine Feddern learned more about the harmful effects that are being produced in the environment.

“I thought that it was very interesting to learn more about the environmental hazards of fracking, particularly in the pictures of destruction,” said Feddern. “That really captured my attention.”

LaDuke made sure to close by stressing the importance of working together in the world, whether the need is near or far away.

“Even though something happens in a remote area, we might not think that it affects us,” said LaDuke. “In reality, it affects us all. People need support to fight evil. Sometimes, we have to get out of our areas of comfort and the privileges that come with our comfortable lifestyles in order to stand with others.”

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