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Winona LaDuke and the Rights of Nature

Winona LaDuke. Photo: Todd Cooper.
Winona LaDuke. Photo: Todd Cooper.

Native American leader Winona LaDuke says she drove 700 miles to vote this year. 

Now in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, LaDuke — who is executive director of Honor the Earth, an organization whose mission it is to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues — says it’s time to “double down on work in the communities and continue our battles.” 

Those battles include fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline. LaDuke comes to the University of Oregon campus on Saturday, Nov. 19, to give a talk on “Rights of Nature.” 

LaDuke says there was a time when slavery was legal and a time when many people didn’t have the right to vote. “The law has changed.” 

And now in an era when corporate rights are more powerful than the rights of nature, it’s time for something to change again. Even the Environmental Protection Agency is not tasked with stopping pollution but, rather, with giving corporations permits to pollute, LaDuke tells EW.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a poster child for corporate rights, LaDuke points out. Energy Transfer Partners, a corporation, is challenging the right for clean water. An enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabe in Minnesota, LaDuke has been on site at the DAPL several times. She says her niece and nephew have been arrested at the DAPL protests and, more recently, her legal director was arrested at the protests for trespassing, strip searched and placed in a dog kennel. 

“This is our Selma moment,” LaDuke says of Standing Rock. “This is not what civil society is supposed to look like.”

And Trump, LaDuke says, wants to open up the Keystone and other fossil fuel pipelines. A Green Party vice-presidential candidate herself in 1996 and 2000, LaDuke says of the election: “This is not good. No one thought he’d win, and we are not prepared.”

 “People should have unified and voted for the lesser of two evils,” says LaDuke, who drove those 700 miles, due to issues with voting on the reservation, to vote for Hillary Clinton. 

Regarding fossile fuel pipelines like the DAPL, she questions exactly where the thousands of gallons of oil are going to come from. Trump doesn’t control foreign oil markets, she says, and there has been an 85 percent drop in active drilling rigs in the Bakken. “I call it the Dakota Excess Pipeline,” LaDuke says, speculating that some of the oil could come from the Canadian tar sands.

“We intend to fight them all,” she says of the planned pipelines, including some she is standing up against on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. She says she told pipeline builder Enbridge: “You don’t want this to look like Standing Rock.”

Winona LaDuke speaks on “Rights of Nature” 7 pm Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Erb Memorial Union, UO campus, free. And at 7 pm Sunday, Nov. 20, there will be a “Benefit Concert for Water Protectors” at Cozmic/Whirled Pies, see Activist Alert this issue.