e-Newsletter of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary | September 14, 2012 Twitter Facebook

We are all related

Winona LaDuke challenges students to think

Winona LaDuke speaks at Fall Convocation.

The new academic year and the IN FOCUS year of Sustainability officially began with Fall Convocation last Thursday and an inspiring keynote address by Winona LaDuke, a staunch advocate for sustainability in all its forms.

LaDuke opened her speech, Building a Green Economy: Indigenous Strategies for a Sustainable Future, with a few words and phrases in her native language, beautifully describing how the Anishinaabekwe describe the  seasons of the moon. Throughout her talk, LaDuke made points about a sober subject with humor. She spoke quietly and calmly, yet passionately, about the possibilities of building a world based on its creator’s laws, rather than man’s.

“Consider the possibility of a world view that has nothing to do with empire,” she began. “A society based on conquest is not sustainable. There are only so many places you can plant your flag. Instead, consider making peace. Consider getting outside the box to see what that looks like.”

The precepts of sustainability are clear in the indigenous community. In addition to acknowledging that the creator’s law is highest, she reminded the audience that “we are all related. Whether you have fins, paws, hands or roots, we value our relatives. And in each deliberation, we consider the impact on the 7th generation from now,” she said. “That’s how you get to be around for thousands of years.”

Consider the differences between a culture that values the natural way of things, of the cyclical nature of the earth with one in which levels of pollutants in the air, water and on the land change depending on which political party is in office. That is not being “related.”

“While we in this country consume most of the world’s resources and generate the most waste, we leave our relatives around the world to live as paupers,” she said.

President Christopher Thomforde and Dean Gordy Weil join in the applause for LaDuke's speech.

In addition to the environmental crisis facing the planet, LaDuke talked about the social and cultural way of life that has created more than two million prisoners in this country, the highest rate in the world. And she discussed the unsustainable economy as well.

“We don’t think in terms of 7th generation, rather we think in terms of quarterly profits and fiscal years. We’re so time conscious, but only in the short-term, not in terms of generations.”

LaDuke encouraged the students, faculty and staff to think in bigger terms and about larger issues—to be concerned about the species headed for extinction and the loss of 40 percent of the polar ice caps—to be aware of our daily consumption and what we routinely waste.

She used concrete examples from her personal experience as an educator, author and advocate (although she declined the title of activist) and painted a vivid picture of her people—living in the poorest county in the country, with a 50 percent unemployment rate and with one-third afflicted with diabetes—“these are statistics where you wouldn’t bet on the people involved, but we decided we didn’t want to continue in this way.” And so LaDuke and her friends and family began to fight, to be the ones who controlled the change in their world, and they have made huge strides forward in the 30 years she has lived on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota.

“We have bought back 1400 acres of our land so far; we grow “old” varieties of corn (that are higher in protein and lower in fat); we use wind and solar power; we fought off a proposed nuclear waste dump, coal plants and clear cutting,” she explained. “That’s how to say ‘no’—fight and offer alternatives. Decide how you want to be, and be the people in the front seat, not in the back seat.”

She continued to compare the progress made by those on the reservation because they set their minds to creating positive change in their community. She talked about major life changes proudly, yet simply, accepting that the results naturally followed the actions. And she explained how anyone listening can do the same to make their world a better place.

“Think critically, don’t just follow,” she stated. “Be mindful and thoughtful. Be energy efficient. Consume less.
“We all have immense potential. It’s important to use it well … to have the courage to be unafraid to step out of the box, and the wisdom to recognize all our relatives,” she said. “We are the ancestors of those to come. We want them to be grateful for what we did.”

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Well-known for her work on sustainable development, climate change and environmental justice in Native America, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands and the life of Native communities. She is a graduate of Harvard and Antioch universities and holds advanced degrees in rural economic development. She is also the executive director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support and create funding for frontline native environmental groups. In 1996 and 2000, she was the vice presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket with Ralph Nader, and she has written extensively on Native American and environmental issues.

Fall Convocation and the Cohen Keynote speaker are supported by Nancy and Martin Engels in memory of Nancy’s parents, Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen ’37.