Sunday, December 10, 2006

Indigenous Mind- Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke, Activist-

Favorite Quote by Winona:

"Change will come in society when the white men realize all the chemicals in the environment are shrinking their testicles."


It is absolutely correct for me to demand that the holocaust of my people be recognized. Instead, nobody knows anything about the native people. Why?



Native people have taken great care to fashion
their societies in accordance with the flow and
law of Nature.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES believe that all societies must exist in accordance with natural law in order to be sustainable. Cultural diversity is as essential as biological diversity. Indigenous peoples have lived on Earth for thousands of years, and I suggest that their ways are the only sustainable ways of living. Because of that, there is something to be learned from indigenous cultures.

Natural law is superior to the laws made by nations, states and municipalities. It is the law to which we are all accountable. Nature is cyclical. The moon, the tides, the seasons and our bodies all move in cycles. Time itself is cyclical. Through this cycle of life nature maintains a balance. Our ceremonies are about the restoration of balance. That is our intent: to restore balance.

According to our way of looking, the world is animate. This is reflected in our language, in which most nouns are animate. The word for corn is animate; tree is animate; rice, rock and stone are animate. Natural things are alive, they have spirit. Therefore, when we harvest wild rice on our reservation we always offer tobacco to the earth because, when you take something, you must always give thanks to its spirit for giving itself to you. When we harvest, we practise reciprocity, which means, when you take, you always give. This is balance. We say that when you take, you must take only what you truly need and leave the rest. Because, if you take more than you need, you are upsetting the balance of nature.

OVER THE PAST 500 years our experience has been one of conflict between the indigenous and the industrial world-views. This conflict has manifested itself as a holocaust The industrial world-view has caused the extinction of more species in the past 150 years than the total species extinction from the Ice Age to the mid-nineteenth century. The same industrial way of thinking has caused the extinction of about 2,000 different indigenous peoples in the Western hemisphere alone. The extinction of species and the extinction of peoples are closely linked. And the extinction continues. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, in 1992, declared nineteen different indigenous nations in North America extinct. The rate of extinction in the Amazon rainforest, for example, has been one indigenous people per year since 1900. And if you look at world maps showing cultural and biological distribution, you find that where there is the most cultural diversity, there is also the most biological diversity. A direct relationship exists between the two. That is why we argue that cultural diversity is as important to a sustainable society as biological diversity.

Our greatest problem in America is that there has been no recognition of cultural extinction. When I ask people how many different kinds of Indian they can identify, they can name scarcely any. America's mythology is based on the denial of the native. Nobody admits that the holocaust of native people took place. Yet it was a holocaust of unparalleled proportions. Bartholomew de las Casas estimated that fifty million indigenous people in the Western hemisphere perished.

It is absolutely correct for me to demand that the holocaust of my people be recognized. Instead, nobody knows anything about the native people. Why? Because this system is based on a denial of native existence. We are erased from the public consciousness because, if you have no victim, you have no crime. In America we do not exist as full human beings with human rights and human dignity.

I'D LIKE TO TELL you about indigenous peoples' efforts to protect our land and restore our communities. I'll use my own community as an example The White Earth Reservation, located at the headwaters of the Mississippi, is thirty-six by thirty-six miles square, about 837,000 acres. It is very good land. A treaty reserved it for our people in 1867 in return for relinquishing a much larger area of northern Minnesota. There are forty-seven lakes. There's maple sugar, there are hardwoods, and there are all the different medicine plants my people use: our reservation is called "the medicine chest of the Ojibways". There are wild rice, deer, beaver, fish every food we need; there is plenty of it. On the eastern part of the reservation there are stands of white pine. The land is owned collectively, and we have family-based usufruct rights: each family has traditional areas in which it fishes and hunts. In our language the words which describe the concept of land-ownership translate as "the land of the people", which doesn't imply that we own our land but that we belong to it. Our definition doesn't stand up well in court, unfortunately, since America's legal system upholds the concept of private property.

The White Earth Reservation is a rich place. And it is our experience that industrial society is not content to leave other peoples' riches alone. Wealth attracts colonialism: the more a native people has, the more colonisers are apt to covet that wealth and take it away, whether it is gold or, as in our case, pine stands and Red River Valley farmland. A Latin American scholar named Eduardo Galeano has written about colonialism in communities like mine. Re says: "In the colonial alchemy, gold changes to scrap metal and food to poison. We have become painfully aware of the mortality of wealth, which nature bestows and imperialism appropriates." For us, our wealth was the source of our poverty: industrial society could not leave us be.

OUR RESERVATION WAS created by treaty in 1867. In 1887 the General Allotment Act was passed on the national level, not only to teach Indians the concept of private property but to facilitate the removal of more land from Indian nations. The federal government divided our reservation into eighty-acre parcels of land and allotted each parcel to an individual Indian, hoping that through this change we would somehow become yeoman farmers and become "civilized". But the allotment system had no connection to our traditional land tenure patterns. In our society a person harvested rice in one place, trapped in another place, got medicines in a third place, and picked berries in a fourth. These locations depended on the ecosystem; they were not necessarily contiguous. But the government said to each Indian; "Here are your eighty acres; this is where you'll live." Then, after each Indian had received an allotment, the rest ofthe land was declared "surplus" and given to white people to homestead. On our reservation the entire land base was allotted except for some pinelands that were annexed by the state of Minnesota and sold to timber companies. What happened to my reservation happened to reservations all across the country.

The government turned our land into individual eighty-acre parcels, and then let the state of Minnesota take the rest of our land. The native people were each required to pay tax on each eighty-acre area. When the Indians couldn't pay the taxes, the state confiscated the land. How could these people pay taxes? They could not read or write English; they could not fill in the tax forms.

By 1920, 99 per cent of original White Earth Reservation lands was in non-Indian hands. By 1930 half of our population lived off-reservation. Three generations of our people were forced into poverty, were forced off our land and made refugees in white society. Now a lot of our people live in Minneapolis. Of 20,000 native people only 4,000 or 5,000 live on the reservation.

Our struggle is to get our land back. But we have exhausted all legal recourse. The implication for native people is that we have no legal right to our land in the United States or in Canada. The only legal recourse we have in the United States is the Indian Claims Commission, which pays you for land; it doesn't return land to you.

When you do not control your land, you do not control your destiny. Two- thirds of the deer taken on our reservation are taken by non-Indian sports hunters. In the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge nine times as many deer are taken by non-Indians as by Indians. Ninety per cent of the fish taken on our reservation is taken by white people who come to their summer cabins and fish. Each year in our region about 10,000 acres are being clear-cut for paper and pulp in one county alone, mostly by Potlatch Tim- ber Company. We are watching the destruction of our ecosystem and the theft of our resources.

The federal, state and county governments are the largest landholders on the reservation. A third of our land is held by them. That land should just be returned to us. It would not displace anyone. A third of the privately held land on our reservation is held by absentee landholders, who do not see that land, do not know it, do not even know where it is. We ask these people how they feel about returning land, on a reservation, to the native people.

PEOPLE LOOK AT OUR reservation and comment on the 85 per cent unemployment -- they do not realize what we do with our time. They have no way of valuing our cultural practices. For instance, 85 per cent of our people hunt deer, 75 per cent hunt for small game and geese; 50 per cent fish by net; 50 per cent garden. About the same percentage harvest wild rice, not just for themselves: they harvest it to sell. About half of our people produce handcrafts. There is no way to quantify this. It is called the "invisible economy" or the "domestic economy". Society views us as unemployed Indians who need wage jobs. That is not how we view ourselves. Our work is about strengthening and restoring our traditional economy, thereby strengthening our traditional culture.

Our stories are stories of people with a great deal of tenacity and courage, people who have been resisting for centuries. If we do not resist we will not survive. In native culture we think ahead to the seventh generation; however, we know that the ability of the seventh generation to sustain itself will be dependent on our ability to resist now.

Winona LaDuke is an Indigenous Rights activist.

The above article is extracted from her Schumacher Lecture, USA. The full text is available from E. F. Schumacher Society, Great Barrington, MA 01230, USA.


bonus excerpt:

"I am against terrorism of any sort, and if you say you're against terrorism you shouldn't fund it," said LaDuke, referring to United States military aid to countries like Columbia where there are "widespread human rights violations" said LaDuke, adding that over 30,000 people have been killed or have disappeared since 1997 due to the activities of various paramilitary groups.

-Winona LaDuke, Activist


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