Former Green Party vice-presidential candidate Winona LaDuke said the United States is addicted to electricity and energy, and called for a change in the economic paradigm, in an Oct. 22 speech at Portland State.
LaDuke spoke as part of the university’s Sustainability Day celebration. The Institute for Sustainable Solutions hosted her talk at the Stott Center gymnasium. Initially, the event was scheduled for the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom, but was moved to Stott due to high attendance volume. Also speaking at the event were professor Cornel Pewawardy, director of the Indigenous Nations Studies program, and ISS director Jennifer Allen.
LaDuke, an economist and activist in matters of sustainability and indigenous rights, criticized Canada and the U.S. for their dependence on fossil fuels, and pointed to oil extraction in the Canadian tar sands as an example of the extreme measures taken by companies and governments to find fossil fuel resources.
“What’s extreme is destroying an area the size of Florida and stuffing it into pipelines,” she said. “Or blowing off the top of mountains so you can move coal to India.”
A Native American of Ojibwe descent, LaDuke employed a mixture of art and stories created by indigenous people in her speech, in addition to anecdotes and scientific data points, in her case for change.
She began by discussing the Triple Crown of Pipeline Rides, an effort by Lakota horseback riders and those from LaDuke’s White Earth Reservation to ride the length of the proposed Keystone Pipeline.
“I kept having this dream about riding our horses against the current of the oil,” she said.
LaDuke noted that the people of the White Earth Reservation spend a collective 50 percent of their total economy on food and energy outsourcing, referring to it as a hemorrhaging of the reservation’s economy. She then argued for a move to a localized, land-based economy, as opposed to what she referred to as the United States’ current linear economy.
“You relocalize your food economy, and you relocalize your energy economy,” she said. “You plant good seeds, and you grow good food.”
She told a story of the Pawnee Nation, which nearly lost its corn crop after being forced from Nebraska. The Pawnee were later contacted by residents of their previous home in Nebraska, who requested corn seeds for planting on the home soil. The Pawnee agreed to share the seeds, which failed in Oklahoma, and they took root in Nebraskan soil.
“The seeds remembered the land they came from, so the seeds flourished,” LaDuke said. “In that process, this relationship developed.”
LaDuke also pushed for a move toward renewable energy, namely wind and solar power. She lauded Denmark’s use of wind power, and called for Americans to adopt a similar approach.
Though LaDuke criticized corporate models of resource use, she pointed to cooperative efforts to create intentional communities designed by community members themselves, rather than outside directors.
“This is what I think about,” she said. “Do not stand by and not open the door when history knocks. Because history’s knocking.”