Crow socks were flying the evening Winona LaDuke arrived on the Umatilla Indian Reservation–snowflakes big enough for crows to wear as socks. It was great to hear Winona LaDuke speak. Here are some broad strokes. Sorry for any misinterpretation by my low-wattage thinking cap in the presence of a great mind.
Winona LaDuke came to Tamástslikt fresh from Idaho. There she got a look at the megaload of equipment that is stuck at Kooskia, unable to proceed to the tar sand fields of Alberta, Canada. ‘Megaload’ means over 300 tons of equipment at a time being hauled north on highway 12. Ms. LaDuke has been working to stop the oil companies from making an industrial corridor through scenic Idaho and Montana. She opposes tar sand oil extraction, a wasteful process that’s extremely detrimental to the earth.
According to Winona, the peak of oil plenty was passed sometime around 2007. (Some sources think the peak is coming in 2030 but does anybody really know?) Now we are in denial about being on the downward trajectory of our oil culture. That’s why oil companies are seeking alternative extraction methods that cost so much more in water, fossil fuel, and energy than they are worth to produce. Winona says, face the facts, we must alter our behavior to fit the resource. That is the rationale for becoming self-sustaining and localized in our economy. That’s why she’s very involved with alternate energy forms, particularly wind energy. Many Indian reservations are wealthy in wind resources, she observed. Wind is one resource of which tribes were not shortchanged.
Winona’s father challenged her, “Sure, you’re a smart woman, but can you grow corn?” She interpreted it to mean, be a generalist, not a specialist. Even a smart woman such as herself, a Harvard-trained economist, should be able to grow her own food and sustain her own life. She admitted that there are some things she’s not good at, such as administrating and dealing with issues in the ‘now’. Instead she focuses on the big picture, the forecast for the next twenty years, as did our ancestors. “You can solve your own problems. You don’t need to get the BIA’s permission, or to make an ordinance, just take care of it.” People should be empowered from dependency on others to solve their problems.
Her most recent project is a book on the militarization of the landscape. Bobbie Conner suggested she include the chemical weapons depot in our own neighborhood. Winona had a reunion with attorney Audie Huber of the tribal Department of Natural Resources, who worked with her when she was teaching at University of Oregon in the 1990’s.
According to Winona, food and energy use up half a community’s resources. She found out that funds to pay for food and energy were “leaking” away from the White Earth reservation. It was important to divert those resources back for the benefit of the community by becoming more self-sustaining. Her organization, Honor the Earth, developed its own wind energy capacity and an enterprise to revive traditional cultivars of potatoes and corn. Where her tribe is based, they are far from any fast food outlet, but education from the ground up is still needed. For instance, many people don’t know how to cook.
After her talk, she was famished for fresh greens. Apparently, she’s one of those people who forget to eat. By that hour most restaurants had closed. Bobbie told her our McDonald’s serves a salad but otherwise she might need to go to Shari’s in town. Here’s wishing Winona LaDuke lotsa luck in helping her reservation become the happiest place on the planet. That’s her ambition.