St. Mary’s/Sitansik/Fredericton – Winona LaDuke, whose books are read in classes at St. Thomas University, just got a new fan base in Fredericton this week. Hundreds gathered to hear LaDuke, an Anishinaabe woman from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, speak about extreme energy and the need for local food security and community-owned energy at St. Mary’s Cultural Centre on Wednesday night and at St. Thomas University on Thursday night.
LaDuke, trained in rural economic development at Harvard and Antioch, defines extreme energy as energy projects that are so extreme in nature that they defy any sense of normalcy or rationality. Fracking aquifers for shale gas, nuclear power plants and pipelines of bitumen crossing the continent top her list of extreme energy examples.
LaDuke’s visit coincided with New Brunswick Premier David Alward’s visit to Alberta where he made the case for the West-East pipeline, which would pipe bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to a refinery in Saint John.
“Governments are staring down the barrel of a pipeline. They’ve lost perspective,” said LaDuke.
LaDuke showed her audiences a mixture of pictures while she spoke, which revealed her perspective runs deep and is intergenerational. She introduced her children and grandchildren to the audience while also showing homes that are falling into the sea in Alaska as a result of climate change. She said, “This is what native America looks like.” She showed off the solar panels and wind turbines installed on her reservation, and the corn that she grows, including her favourites, a magenta-coloured variety and the Pawnee eagle variety.
The United States government forced the people of Pawnee Nation in Nebraska to leave their territory on foot in the 1870s. Many of them perished on the journey to their forced destination, Oklahoma. LaDuke said their corn failed to grow in the new land and the Pawnee people wept when they lost their crops. “They grieved the loss of their relatives,” she said.
According to LaDuke, a society based on conquest cannot be sustained. She says she has spent her life fighting bad ideas like mines but she has also realized the importance of being part of community efforts to grow food and install cleaner energy. She asked the gathering at St. Mary’s, how much food consumed in New Brunswick is actually grown in New Brunswick. Stephanie Coburn, a farmer based outside of Sussex and president of the Conservation Council answered: three per cent. Potatoes, apples and fish were mentioned as staples by people in the audience.
LaDuke said her father told her that he didn’t want to hear her philosophy if she couldn’t grow corn.
Growing heritage varieties of corn, squash and other food is important for LaDuke, not only in the fight against diabetes, obesity and other health problems in her community but also for her community’s survival in a time of climate change that is already wreaking havoc on food crops.
Inspired by farmers in India who use oxen to grow food, LaDuke wants to go post-petroleum and plans to get horses for her gardens.
One of her take home messages was “don’t ask permission. Just do it.” LaDuke seems to be doing it all.
The mother of six children has successfully fought off the genetic engineering of wild rice. She grows her own corn and maintains a busy speaking schedule that has her addressing crowds across the continent and world, at universities and in communities facing mines and coal plants. LaDuke has written prolifically for magazines and authored three books, The Militarization of Indian Country, Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming and All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life.
Ralph Nader, advocate for the public interest in the U.S., chose LaDuke to run with him twice on the Green Party presidential ticket in the U.S. federal elections in 1996 and 2000.
LaDuke is a founder and co-director of Honor the Earth, a native-led organization that was established by LaDuke and Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in 1993. Honor the Earth attempts to address two needs of the native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change.
The corporate elite and the governments that support their interests will most certainly oppose any strong movement towards opposing capitalism and decolonization with your feet, which LaDuke emulates with her life work.
Minutes before LaDuke’s Thursday night address, a group of students from the University of New Brunswick and the NB College of Craft and Design sent a clear message to those gathered at the pre-budget consultation in Fredericton that the consultation was a sham. The students held banners that denounced the marginalization of dissent through consultation and the government’s moves to further commodify health care, education and the environment.
Marion Miller, a student organizer at the Craft College, addressed over 100 people gathered at the consultation before it started. She said, “This government has no intention of listening to students, workers or shale gas opponents. And we have no desire to rationalize decaying capitalism through austerity, privatization and deregulation. We will organize and we will stop the privatization of education and health care, and we will stop dirty and risky fossil fuels like shale gas.”
In a conversation with students the day before the pre-budget consultation, LaDuke remarked on the limitations of consultations. She often attends public hearings and argues her case against extreme energy but she is also not afraid to get arrested at a protest for something she believes in. She was arrested at Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia in the nineties for chaining herself to a 1,000 year old tree to stop it from being turned into a phone book.
Next on LaDuke’s plate: protesting the proposed Keystone pipeline in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Feb. 17 with her grandchildren and thousands of other Americans.
Tracy Glynn is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.