In preparation for her talk here at SUNY Oswego, I recently had the pleasure of reading Winona LaDuke’s novel, The Winona LaDuke Chronicles: Stories from the Front Lines in the Battle for Environmental Justice. In this book, LaDuke compiled many of her stories about her life as an activist, economist, and Native American. She states, “In the North American first world, tribal communities and First Nations struggle just to survive. In our resilience and beauty, these stories are inspired.” She also included stories that were passed down from generation to generation. These stories all teach lessons that can be valuable for anyone reading them.
“I have lived much of my life on the road. like my mother and father before me, I travel from one tribal nation to another, from college campus to regulatory hearing to courtroom to the United Nations–to and from– and then home. This is the book of those travels, a privileged life indeed. In this space people share stories or–just at the moment–a story unfolds as a watch, pen in hand.”
This book is essentially a collection of current and inspirational stories of Indigenous communities from Northern Canada to the heart of the Navajo Nation. Chronicles is a book that has literally and figuratively risen from the ashes. She began writing it after her house burned to the ground. The introduction is called “After the Burn,” and is about the burning down of her house, as well as the depression that followed. She lost her father, her children’s father, and her sister all in a row. This novel acts as an accounting of Winona’s personal path toward recovery through spirituality, activism, and solidarity. Her book was absolutely inspiring and unforgettable.
“[This book] is a chronicle of my past years of writing, and it is a thanksgiving to all of those who supported our family. It is a recognition that your mind returns and so does your heart. Love returns. It is also a tribute to our ability to recover and be reborn after the burn.”
She is a Harvard graduate, an avid protester and in 1996 and 2000, LaDuke even ran as the vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket. Her success has been guided by her spirituality. Guiding her success as an activist is her spirituality. For example, her fight for clean water was inspired by stories passed down to her. “The spirits came into the fire area and said we had to get it done, that we needed to mend our relationship with the fish in order to heal.” She was raised on short stories that ended just like this one. She grew up knowing that we need to care for the Earth above all things. The book discusses ways in which we can do that. Some things include: sustainable energy, food waste, sacred lands, reservation treaties, clean water, and challenging big corporations who continue to damage the earth.
“Fossil fuel extraction practices illustrate the worst of addiction and overconsumption.”
It was meeting her in person, however, that solidified my utmost admiration for Winona LaDuke. I got to hear some of the stories in person, straight from the source. Some of the stories that stuck with me were the stories involving water protectors. Winona LaDuke has been a water protector for years, defending her land and the land of others. She shared her recollection of being shot at with rubber bullets, standing in the freezing rivers, being pepper sprayed, etc. I knew that all of this was going on because of the few news stories, but it was different hearing about it first hand. I could tell she still had a lot of emotion toward the subject.
“There is a monetary economy and then there is an economy based on clean air, clean water, and food, or quality of life.”
Still, LaDuke’s talk was not all negative. In this political climate, it is encouraging to see that someone who has seen so many bad things happen still has hope for redemption. She believes that, even though we have all taken part in destroying our planet, we can still recover and make up for at least most of the damage. She is confident that the future generation will be the generation that will finally perfect renewable resources and start mending the holes left by prior generations. If you did not get the chance to attend her talk, I would 100% recommend ordering one of her books and/or checking out this website where you can learn more about the issues she focuses on and find out how to contribute.
Written by Sarah Pasquarelli