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Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke at the Green for all Dream Reborn Conference in 2008
Born (1959-08-18) August 18, 1959 (age 60)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Nationality Anishinaabeg, United States
Education Harvard University,
Antioch University
Occupation Author, Environmental Activist, Economist, Political Candidate
Employer Honor the Earth, White Earth Land Recovery Project
Known for 1988 Reebok Human Rights Award winner
1997 Ms. Magazine woman of the year
1996, 2000 United States Vice Presidential Candidate, Green Party of the United States
Children Waseyabin Kapashesit, Gwe Gasco, Ajuawak Kapashesit
Parent(s) Vincent LaDuke, Betty LaDuke

Winona LaDuke (born 1959) is an American activist, environmentalist, economist, and writer, known for her work on tribal land claims and preservation, as well as sustainable development. In 1996 and 2000, she ran for vice president as the nominee of the Green Party of the United States, on a ticket headed by Ralph Nader.

A Native American with Ojibwe ancestry, she is the executive director of both White Earth Land Recovery Project, which she founded at White Earth Reservation in 1989, and Honor the Earth, which she founded with Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in 1993. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Ashland, Oregon, she was enrolled in the tribe at an early age, but did not live at the White Earth Indian Reservation until 1982. She started work there after college as a principal of a high school. LaDuke became an activist in Anishinaabe issues, helping found the Indigenous Women's Network in 1985. She became involved in continuing struggles to regain reservation land lost since in the 19th century. The WELRP holds land in a conservation trust for the benefit of the tribe.

Early life and education

Winona (meaning "first daughter" in Dakota) LaDuke was born in Los Angeles, California, to Vincent and Betty (Bernstein) LaDuke. Her father, an Ojibwe from White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, enrolled his daughter as a member of the tribe at an early age. Her mother was a Jew with European ancestry. As a young man, her father had been an activist on treaty rights and tribal issues, particularly the loss of lands. By the 20th century, the tribe controlled only ten percent of a much reduced reservation. The losses of land contributed to unemployment and other problems of its people.

After Vincent LaDuke married, he worked as an actor in Hollywood, with supporting roles in Western movies, and as a writer. By the 1980s, he practiced as a spiritual guru under the name Sun Bear.[1] Her mother was of Russian Jewish descent, and became an artist. They separated when Winona was five, and her mother took a position as an art instructor at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, then primarily a small logging town.[1] LaDuke grew up mostly in Ashland.[2]

Both parents were activists; influenced by her father, LaDuke became interested in tribal issues from an early age. She attended public school and was on the debate team in high school, placing third in an Oregon state competition as a senior. She went on to college at Harvard, where she became part of a group of Indian activists. She graduated in 1982 with a degree in rural economic development.[1]

Upon graduating from college, LaDuke moved to White Earth without knowing the Ojibwe language or many people, and was not quickly accepted. She worked as principal of the high school on the reservation in Minnesota. At the same time, she was doing research for her master's thesis on the reservation's subsistence economy and quickly became involved in local issues. She completed an M.A. in Community Economic Development at Antioch University.[1]


While working as a principal at the high school, LaDuke became an activist. In 1985 she helped found the Indigenous Women's Network. She worked with Women of All Red Nations to publicize the alleged high level of forced sterilization among Native American women.

Next she became involved in the struggle to recover lands for the Anishinaabe. An 1867 treaty with the United States had originally provided a territory of more than 860,000 acres for the White Earth Indian Reservation. Under the Nelson Act of 1889, an attempt to have the Anishinaabe assimilate by adopting a European-American model of subsistence farming, communal tribal land had been allotted to individual households. The US classified any land in excess as surplus, allowing it to be sold to non-natives. In addition, many Anishinaabe sold their land individually over the years; these elements resulted in the tribe losing control of most of its land. By the mid-20th century, the tribe held only one-tenth of the land within its reservation.[1]

In 1989, LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) in Minnesota with the proceeds of a human rights award from Reebok. The goal is to buy back land within the reservation that had been bought by non-Natives and to create enterprises that provide work to Anishinaabe. By 2000, the foundation had bought 1200 acres, which it held in a conservation trust for eventual cession to the tribe.[1]

The non-profit is also working to reforest the lands and a revive cultivation of wild rice, long a traditional food. It markets that and other traditional products, including hominy, jam, buffalo sausage and other products. It has started an Ojibwe language program, a herd of buffalo, and a wind-energy project.[1]

LaDuke is also Executive Director of Honor the Earth, an organization she co-founded with Indigo Girls in 1993. It was later sponsored by the Seventh Generation Fund, Indigenous Women's Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network. The Native-led organization's mission is
"to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities. Honor the Earth develops these resources by using music, the arts, the media, and Indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the Earth and be a voice for those not heard."

LaDuke was selected by The Evergreen State College Class of 2014 to be a keynote speaker and delivered her address at the school's graduation on June 13, 2014.

Political career

In 1996 and 2000, LaDuke ran as the vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket. She was not endorsed by the tribal council, which seldom endorses any national party candidate. For years, based on poor treatment by the federal government, many tribal members did not vote in national elections and paid little attention to its politics.[1] LaDuke endorsed the Democratic Party ticket for the president and vice-president in 2004,[3] 2008,[4] and 2012.[5] She has worked to raise political awareness and voting rates among the people on the reservation.

White Earth Recovery Project

According to WELRP, less than 10 percent of the land of the White Earth Indian Reservation is held by the Anishinaabeg. It currently seeks to regain lands that were taken from the Anishinaabeg people through improper sales, property theft and treaty abrogation in the 19th and 20th centuries. The organization also seeks to prevent the deforestation of the traditional lands of the Anishinaabeg.

“According to its website, it seeks to 'build citizen participation involving environmental and cultural justice and preservation work, restoration of sustainable communities, renewable energy, media, and youth and leadership development programs.' It has led several conferences of indigenous communities on these issues, hosted and trained VISTA and other volunteers, developed school programs and curricula, and other initiatives”.[2]

“Within these goals, WELRP has worked to revive cultivation and harvesting of wild rice, a traditional food of the people. It produces and sells traditional foods through its label, Native Harvest. The label currently offers wild rice, hominy, buffalo sausage, fry bread mix, chokecherry jelly, and raspberry preserves”.[2]

Honor the Earth

Honor the Earth is a national advocacy group encouraging public support and funding for native environmental groups. With Honor the Earth, Winona works nationally and internationally on issues of climate change, renewable energy, sustainable development, food systems and environmental justice.

Books, films, and media

LaDuke has written six books:

  • Last Standing Woman (1997), novel.
  • All our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (1999), about the drive to reclaim tribal land for ownership
  • Recovering the Sacred: the Power of Naming and Claiming (2005), a book about traditional beliefs and practices.
  • The Militarization of Indian Country
  • Daughters of Mother Earth: The Wisdom of Native American Women
  • The Sugar Bush

She has also co-written several other books including:

  • Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide
  • Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism
  • Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community
  • Struggle for the Land: Native North American Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide, and Colonization
  • Cutting Corporate Welfare
  • Ojibwe Waasa Inaabidaa: We Look in All Directions
  • New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism
  • Make a Beautiful Way: The Wisdom of Native American Women
  • How to Say I Love You in Indian
  • Earth Meets Spirit: A Photographic Journey Through the Sacred Landscape
  • Otter Tail Review: Stories, Essays and Poems from Minnesota's Heartland

Winona's editorials and essays have also been published several times in national and international journals and newspapers. Links to a few of her more recent articles can be found at

Winona is also known for speaking on the following topics:

  • Native American Women: Finding the Voice to Safeguard Mother Earth
  • Creating a Multi-Cultural Democracy: Religion, Culture & Identity in America
  • The Next Energy Economy: Grassroots Strategies to Mitigate Global Climate Change & How We Move Ahead
  • Seed Sovereignty: Who Owns the Seeds of the World, Bio-Piracy, Genetic Engineering & Indigenous Peoples
  • Mothers of Our Nations: Indigenous Women Address the World
    • Here Winona speaks on how the Earth is “our” mother, and how “we” get life and the ability to live from Earth. She then goes on to state how one must care for their mother—in this case, Earth, because once one cares for their mother, their mother cares for them. This was derived from the very famous quote, “treat others the way you want to be treated”. However, the bulk of her speech speaks about how all females are the human manifestation of Mother Earth. She uses these metaphoric comparisons to state how the “problems that emanate from industrial society’s mistreatment and disrespect for our Mother Earth, and are reflected in the devastation of the collective health and well-being of women” [3] Winona expresses great focus on the welfare of indigenous women throughout her speech, but makes sure to reflect what she says to all women. Basically, using indigenous women as a main point, she is able to relate what they go through to what every female goes through. As she closes, Winona “calls on everyone in the audience to support the hardships of indigenous women to gain world recognition as people who have self-determination—telling the audience to go as far as getting the recognition of the United Nations. She closes by stating how this struggle is not for women of the dominant society in so called “first-world” countries for things like equal pay, but for all women to regain their status as Daughters of the Earth.

She appeared in the documentary film Anthem, directed by Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn. The film was released in the United States on July 25, 1997. Both directors were awarded by the 1997 Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. LaDuke also appeared in the TV documentary The Main Stream, first released on December 17, 2002.

LaDuke appeared on The Colbert Report on June 12, 2008.[6]

Legacy and honors

Marriage and family

LaDuke married Randy Kapashesit, a Cree leader, when working in opposition to a major hydroelectric project near Moose Factory, Ontario. They had two children together: a daughter Waseyabin (born 1988) and a son Ajuawak (born 1991). They divorced after several years.[1]

LaDuke now has a companion in Kevin Gasco. They had a child in 1999. She has also cared for a niece and nephew for an extended period. She and Kevin share her grandchildren.[1]

On November 9, 2008, LaDuke's house in Ponsford, Minnesota, burned down while she was in Boston. No one was injured, but all of LaDuke's personal property burned, including her extensive library and indigenous art and artifact collection.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Peter Ritter, "The Party Crasher", Minneapolis News, October 11, 2000
  2. ^ Willamette Week | "Winona Laduke" | July 19th, 2006
  3. ^ "Winona LaDuke endorsement of John Kerry for president". October 20, 2004. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ "LaDuke and the lessons she learned with Nader". Minnesota Post. May 22, 2008. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Winona LaDuke on Presidential Politics (7:41)". Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  6. ^ LaDuke on The Colbert Report,
  7. ^ LaDuke, Winona - National Women’s Hall of Fame
  8. ^ Augsburg College
  9. ^ "Winona LaDuke to rebuild home destroyed by fire". News from Indian Country. November 17, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2008. 

Further reading

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Green Party vice presidential nominee
1996, 2000
Succeeded by
Pat LaMarche