UAII is Honored Guest for IPD Speaker Series
UAII was a special guest of the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences which honored Indigenous People’s Day with an address by acclaimed Native American environmental change advocate Winona LaDuke, hosted by the School’s Equity & Justice Institute. LaDuke posed pressing questions about climate change. “Where are we going? Because we’re all going together,” she exclaimed to the packed house of community leaders, parents, and local activists.
The Crossroads School Indigenous Peoples’ Day event began with a traditional prayer to the four directions performed by Tina Calderon (Gabrieliño-Tongva, Chumash). Joseph Quintana (Kewa Pueblo), Development Director for United American Indian Involvement (UAII) and a mayoral appointee to the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, followed with opening remarks. He shared that American Indians are uplifting their communities internally, and by working with external organizations, and he encouraged the Native people in the audience to be proud of their heritage and language and to share their concerns with potential supporters, advocates, and politicians who can assist with positive change.
“Winona has been an inspiration for many people across Indian Country,” said Quintana. “She has helped guide American Indian perspectives as responsible caretakers of the land and increased awareness of the natural environment. Although Winona is an accomplished leader of environmental protection, she remains connected to her traditional roots, allowing others to feel comfortable as a Native person while working to advance issues in a Westernized world. It was an honor to share the words and a stage with someone who has inspired me.”
LaDuke, a two-time Green Party vice-presidential candidate on Ralph Nader’s ticket, works from the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. Environmentalist, economist, and writer, LaDuke was born in Los Angeles in 1959 with deep spiritual roots, as the descendant of a Jewish mother and a Native American father from the Gaa-waabaabiganikaag reservation in Minnesota, also known as the White Earth Indian Reservation. LaDuke took part in Ojibwe culture from an early age. However, she was raised between Los Angeles and Oregon and later moved home to the White Earth reservation.
Influenced by her father’s advocacy for the Ojibwe people, activism informed LaDuke’s childhood and at 18, she became the youngest person to speak to the United Nations about American Indian concerns. And then, while studying economics at Harvard in the late seventies, LaDuke came into contact with a new generation of activists.
In 1993, together with folk music duo the Indigo Girls, LaDuke founded Honor the Earth, a project which aims to raise awareness of native environmental issues. She became executive director of Honor the Earth and worked on a national level to create public support and funding for native environmental groups.
In the late 1990s, LaDuke started farming on White Earth and other tribal land. In the last twenty years, part of her work has focused on campaigning against the introduction of genetically modified rice on native land, as well as on the construction of several pipelines. She was an important coordinator at Standing Rock, wherein 2017, the Sioux Tribe and supporters fought to protect the tribe’s drinking water and ancestral lands from the Dakota Access pipeline.
“In honoring those whose lives, culture and resources were the ransom for the construction of an American empire, it is imperative to have authentic voices leading efforts to reestablish the historical narrative,” reflected Equity & Justice Institute Founding Director Derric J. Johnson, in closing remarks of LaDuke. “This is particularly true in regard to respecting the earth, fighting for environmental justice and preserving our natural resources. Winona LaDuke has been, and continues to be, a stalwart, revolutionary figure for sovereign lands and Native communities.”
In her speech, LaDuke advocated for a “renaissance” that would build toward a sustainable future motivated by concern for the environment rather than industrialization. She engaged in a post-lecture Q&A with the audience in which she stressed the importance of maintaining hope and the belief that anything is possible.