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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Winona LaDuke at Regis

Winona LaDuke is a member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg and lives on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. She is the founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP). The mission of the WELRP is to facilitate recovery of the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation, while preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage.

Regis University recently featured Winona LaDuke as one of their speakers for Womens’ History Month. Winona spoke about “"Environmental Justice from a Native Perspective".

One of the central questions that Winona posed in her talk was; How do you create a multicultural society that truly respects the rights of all? As evidence of the difficulty of this process in U.S society, Winona told the story of various struggles to protect native sacred sites from destruction by corporate and “recreational” interests.

Beginning with The place where the thunderbeings rest(aka Mount Mckay located at the edge of Thunder Bay, Ontario) and stopping at the place where life begins, (coastal plain of the Artctic National Wildlife Refuge), Winona described the collusion between corporate and state interests that threaten to destroy mountains and landscapes sacred to Indigenous Peoples.

The struggle to protect sacred sites hasn’t always been waged to protect natrual resources. At times, the threat comes from “recreational interests”. Such is the case with The sixth resting place of the Anishanabee(aka Spirit Mt at Duluth, MN). Winona told the story of the sixth resting place which recounts that the Anishanabee People journeyed until they came to the place where food grows on water . The food of course is wild rice. There they rested and have always considered the sixth resting place to be sacred.

The threat to the sixth resting place came from a golf course. Developers, or rather despoilers, attempted to build an 18 hole golf course on the mount. Anishinabee People testified before the Duluth City Council and told of the reverence they had for the sixth resting place . The City Council eventually denied the golf course only to have the mayor veto their action. Eventually, the mayor was voted out of office and there is now a Spirit Mountain Decree which protects the sacred site.

At least two of the places Winona spoke about are currently under threat.

Bear Butte (South Dakota) is sacred to many native nations each of which call it by their own name. Native people go to Bear Butte in the summer to hold ceremonies, fast and pray for several days. A businessman has started construction on 600 acres of property next to Bear Butte which will host summer concerts and a biker bar. Imagine trying to hold a ceremony while a party is raging nearby. This may be the future at Bear Butte and native peoples are now organizing to prevent that from happening.

The other sacred area under threat was the last one Winona spoke about.. The place where life begins, is so named because that is where the Caribou go to calve. The Gwichin have struggled to protect this area from drilling for decades. Tomorrow, it is expected that the Senate will vote on a Republican drafted resolution to open the place where life begins(Arcic National Wildlife Refuge) to oil drilling. The resolution may pass unless those who wish to protect the ANWR can convince a majority of U.S Senators to oppose it.

One of the last questions Winona posed to the audience was this; Is the Holy Land an exclusively European prospect? Many U.S citizens consider the Holy Lands to be based in Europe and don’t consider the places here to be legitimately sacred.

“I am not a patriot to a flag, I am a patriot to the land” Winona stated. “A society should not be based on conquest of land but on having a relationship with the land.”

Please visit the following sites to learn more about the ongoing struggle to protect sacred sites.

Owe Aku
Gwichin Steering Committee
Sacred Land
White Earth Land Recovery Project


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