Winona LaDuke delivers the 20th Annual Sheinberg Lecture on "Predator Economics, Human Rights, and Indigenous Peoples"

At the 20th Annual Rose Sheinberg Lecture, Winona LaDuke—herself a graduate of Harvard University—didn’t soft-pedal any of the hard truths about the policies devastating the environment and hurting indigenous communities. Her presentation, “Predator Economics, Human Rights, and Indigenous Peoples” made it clear that we need a re-education in how we care for the planet.

Winona LaDukeLaDuke is a member of the Anishinaabe, Algonquin-speakers of the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. She is the founder and co-director of Honor the Earth, a national nonprofit that encourages public support of and funding for native environmental groups. Its main projects involve opposing the use of fossil fuels and “extreme extraction,” which includes hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. She is also the executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which won the International Slow Food Award in 2003 for their work in protecting wild rice and local biodiversity. In 2007, LaDuke was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Her lecture focused on a key concept: “Economics for the Seventh Generation.” Our shortsighted consumer culture has cost us, she said, and we need to change how we live for the sake of future generations. As a result, LaDuke commanded the room with an unblinkered survey of how runaway energy consumption, compounded by greed, is hurting not just indigenous people but all of us. She included snapshots of the growing devastation: She cited Kivalina, a native village in Alaska that is sinking into the ocean as the ice melts. She described the tailings ponds in Canada that store the leftovers of oil sands processing, where noise cannons keep birds from landing on their toxic soup of water, sand, clay, and oil. She denounced the ruthless practices of fracking companies, that in their quest to drill for shale gas have muscled their way onto land owned by private citizens. It was a gloomy tour of corruption and ruin.

Then she paused. “Hopefully, I’ve bummed you out enough.” LaDuke turned to the promising projects she is working on now. One of them is the Indigenous Corn Restoration Project. When she was an undergraduate, her father told her, “Winona, I don’t want to hear your philosophy if you can’t grow corn.” Besides growing indigenous rather than genetically modified corn, this project underscored the main point of LaDuke’s lecture: we must retake control of how we treat the environment. We can start, she urged, by not letting corporations decide where our food comes from.

During the Q&A, an attendee asked what law students can do. LaDuke encouraged students to be thoughtful about their career decisions. Many organizations do need the legal help. “All things are interesting,” she said. “Not all things are equal.”

Posted on November 13, 2013