Winona LaDuke (born August 18, 1959) is an American environmentalist, economist, and writer, known for her work on tribal land claims and preservation, as well as sustainable development. In a December 2018 interview she also described herself as an industrial hemp grower.
Winona has been on my lips of recognition for many years as an Earth Warrior. It wasn’t until I started researching her that I learned her full story. A friend from high school now lives in western Minnesota near where Winona has her ranch and told me about the 60th birthday celebration in Winona, MN, where she is calling upon all “Winona’s” to come be part of the celebratory circle.
Most recently, she became a voice for protecting the water over the pipelines, where “big oil” tore up native lands as well as farmer’s fields along the route and which has had “spills” occurred since.
Before Winona found the world stage, Ruth Muskrat Bronson had paved a way. Ruth dedicated her life to protecting the rights of Native Americans and ensuring their ability to gain access to education and a brighter future. Born October 1897, in White Water on the Delaware Nation Reservation, to a Cherokee father and an Irish mother, Ruth also had the unique perspective of being a part of two cultures.
In 1919, Muskrat enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where she studied for three semesters. During the summer of 1921, she worked for the YWCA] and was sent to work on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Her report on her organizing efforts earned her a scholarship to attend the University of Kansas, where she studied for three more semesters. In 1922, Muskrat went to Peking, China for an international youth conference as part of a YWCA delegation. She was one of the first Native American women to serve as a student delegate abroad. The trip, which included stops in “Hawaii, Manchuria, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong”, brought Muskrat to the attention of the international press. She was inspired to work for racial equality.
The following year, Muskrat delivered an appeal to the United States government for better educational facilities for Native Americans.She made the presentation at a gathering of Native American leaders, which was known as the “Committee of One Hundred”, to advise the president on American Indian policy. Muskrat advocated for Indians to be involved in solving their own problems. Moved by her speech, President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, invited Muskrat to lunch with them. In 1923, she enrolled in Mount Holyoke College and in 1925 graduated with a BA in English. During her college days, Muskrat was a prolific poet, influenced by the Modernist movement.
Mrs. Bronson served for 12 years as head of the scholarship and loan program of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C., and later wrote a high school textbook, ”Indians Are People Too.” She was a published poet as well. In 1957 she left her posts in D.C. and moved to Arizona, where she continued work with Indian Health Services, water rights and other non-profits working for Native American rights, promoting their development and leadership in the private sector until her death, June 1982.
At an early age, Winona found her voice. Her father, Vincent LaDuke, was an actor in Hollywood and grew up on Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. After leaving his acting career, he changed his name to “Sun Bear” and became a “new age” author, much to the chagrin of the Native American societies. But he did bring recognition to their plights, by way of his daughter’s journey. Her mother, of Jewish European ancestry from the Bronx, New York, was an art teacher. She grew up in both Hollywood and Ashland OR, where her mother taught. After college she moved to her father’s native lands and began her activism in earnest.
In 1977, Winona spoke at a U.N. conference on indigenous human rights. Even though their coalition didn’t get what they asked for, the Indians were able to use the conference to help develop a supranational monitoring and advisory mechanism for protecting indigenous human rights. As a result, the UN now receives and acts on reports of rights issues. It advises national governments and other entities on best practice and calls them out on violations.
Winona is a water warrior, as am I. Her activism takes on many issues. And she’s hardly done. In honoring her this Earth Day, the voices of all people continue to be heard.
This is what “honorearth.org” has to say about her.
Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned activist working on issues of sustainable development renewable energy and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, and is a two time vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party.
As Program Director of the Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities. And in her own community, she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation based non-profit organizations in the country, and a leader in the issues of culturally based sustainable development strategies, renewable energy and food systems. In this work, she also continues national and international work to protect Indigenous plants and heritage foods from patenting and genetic engineering.
In 2007, LaDuke was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, recognizing her leadership and community commitment. In 1994, LaDuke was nominated by Time magazine as one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age. She has been awarded the Thomas Merton Award in 1996, Ms. Woman of the Year (with the Indigo Girls in l997), and the Reebok Human Rights Award, with which in part she began the White Earth Land Recovery Project. The White Earth Land Recovery Project has won many awards- including the prestigious 2003 International Slow Food Award for Biodiversity, recognizing the organization’s work to protect wild rice from patenting and genetic engineering.
A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities, she has written extensively on Native American and environmental issues. She is a former board member of Greenpeace USA and is presently an advisory of the Christensen Fund. The Author of five books, including Recovering the Sacred, All our Relations and a novel- Last Standing Woman, she is widely recognized for her work on environmental and human rights issues.