Activist Winona LaDuke: Lighting The Eighth Fire
In recent years, the formidable Winona LaDuke has garnered mainstream media attention for her leadership at the “Standing Rock” Dakota Access Pipeline protests. However, this revered activist has been publicly speaking truth to power since the mid-1980s.
A Native Ojibwe who graduated from Harvard University and completed her masters degree in community economic development at Antioch University, LaDuke helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network. She also founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project to restore native lands to the Anishinaabe and cofounded Honor The Earth, a nonprofit providing resources to native people and lands.
In 2013, while opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline, LaDuke is famously quoted as saying, “Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn’t make a corporation a terrorist.”
It was an honor to ask this elder how we can take responsibility this Earth Day.
LA YOGA: From your perspective, what is the most devastating issue Mother Earth is facing today?
WL: Climate change is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. But there is another more insidious issue that impacts Mother Earth’s ability to deal with the change. That simply is the loss of biodiversity and the toxification of our environment.
Change is a natural part of any ecosystem, and while the climate chaos we are seeing is beyond what one would consider “natural” in a healthy ecosystem, the chaos would be much more easily adapted to.
Our Mother Earth is already stressed to the breaking point with the spread of monocultures, urbanization, industrialization, and the toxins that come with those activities. Climate change magnifies all those issues. In the end we are all accountable to Natural Law.
LA YOGA: How can we help to heal that issue?
WL: There are so many ways. Much of the loss of biodiversity comes from our food system. Massive amounts of native prairies have been destroyed to make room for corn and soybeans. Much of these crops, in turn, go to feed our beef and dairy industry. The subsidies that permit this large-scale destructive farming needs to be changed. The diets that rely on beef and processed foods need to be changed.
Somewhat converse to popular perceptions, urban areas have become oasis of biodiversity because of the widespread use of monocultural farming in rural areas. You can help those islands by advocating for pollinator friendly plantings in your local parks and gardens. If you live in a rural area, you can plant native plants, grow your food using biodynamic farming techniques, and get engaged with organizations that address farming and farming issues.
LA YOGA: We are now seeing what could very well be the fall of the patriarchal system (fingers crossed). The women and children are leading. For me, you have always exemplified the brave and beautiful. A compassionate and exacting warrior. Can you speak to women in leadership, and why this is important?
WL: Indigenous people have long recognized the connection between women and Mother Earth and water. We are the protectors of the water and our ability to give birth is reflected in Mother Earth that has given birth to us all.
In pre-contact days, women were often the leaders of our communities and often, with the spread of colonialism came the spread of patriarchy. Women are reclaiming their roles as protectors and leaders of the community. This is a good thing.
It is a break from the male-driven culture that has gotten us into this mess. And you can’t fix a problem using the same practices that got you into the problem in the first place. That’s not to say that men are the problem, it’s the structure that colonialism and patriarchy has built that is the problem.
Men need healing and to be leaders as well, but it’s time they take their cues from women. I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept of the seventh generation and the saying, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” In traditional decision-making processes, it was important that our decisions and actions left a positive impact for the seventh generation. This is no longer true.
We are leaving our children a world vastly impacted by our actions. So much so that scientists are starting to refer to the present time as the Anthropocene. These children we are impacting have a right to have their voices heard. We are leaving them a huge mess and the sooner they can learn to fight the bad ideas that continue to threaten our Mother Earth, the better.
LA YOGA: During Standing Rock there was a lot of social media activity stating, “We were born for these times.” Do you feel that this is true? That we are at a critical mass of depleting the Earth’s resources, that we are in a time of potential awakening consciousness and a new Earth? On the brink of “End Times”?
WD: I do. One of the projects we have started it the “Eighth Fire Project.” This project is focusing on the village of Pine Point, working to create a new future for that community. The name and inspiration for the project comes from another prophecy that speaks of the eight fires.
It is an Anishinaabeg prophecy that speaks of times of change for our people. It was said that there would come a time of the seventh fire, when we would have to chose between the old path, that is well-worn and scorched and a new path which is green. When we choose this new path we would light an eighth fire that would bring a new world.
And again, if we look at the seventh generation concept, we are the seventh generation from the time of the signing of many of the treaties between the US and Native Nations. We are the generation our ancestors thought of when they signed those documents and tried to save our lands and our cultures for us. Now is the time for us to be that generation that 140 years from now people look to and say, “Look at all they did for us.”
LA YOGA: May it be so!
Honor the Earth
To learn more about Winona LaDuke, visit: honortheearth.org.