By Shirley Honyust
LONDON — Winona Laduke, an Indigenous woman of Ojibway heritage, was born in 1959 in Los Angeles, raised in Ashland, Oregon, and later enrolled as a band member of the White Earth Indian Reservation in 1982.
Laduke visited Western University where she was invited by the Indigenous Health and Well-being Initiative (IHWBI) to speak to an audience at the Arts and Humanities Building about the importance of applied community based research for Aboriginal self-determination. She is described as an American activist, environmentalist, 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 nominee of the Green Party on a ticket headed by Ralph Nader.
During her lecture at Arts and Humanities, Laduke made reference to the Indian Whisperer that Enbridge Corporation is looking to find. Her company, Honor the Earth, produced a very humourous video response to that advertisement. “Enbridge Desperately Seeking Indian Whisperer” pulls off a coup that reveals the Indigenous perspective of humour that non-Natives almost always fail to appreciate. In her video the Calgary based oil corporation appears to be advertising for a “Tribal Relations Specialist”. His role, Laduke presents, is seen in this way, “We all know what he’s saying to us—he’s lying”.
Parallels were drawn between Enbridge Energy in the U.S. and the Keystone XL Pipeline which is Canada’s contentious development of resources and transport of those resources to refineries which are usually several hundred kilometers from the oil rigs. The Tribal Relations Specialist is of course, a parallel to what is referred to in Canada as a “Third Party Consultant”. The National Energy Board is intent on giving Enbridge anything it wants. She described this relationship as being akin to hanging out with the dealers while trying to win the in the issue of drug dependency.
Annya Pucan of Saugeen First Nation was in the listening audience and her concern was for advice in terms of bringing leadership and the community together on the issue of Deep Geological Repository for nuclear waste which is planned for Lake Huron. Laduke’s response was to seek a person in leadership to act as a “champion” of the issue. As well, she recommended banding together with other like-minded individuals from various communities, both Indigenous and Settler allies, to work together to bring solutions to the problem.
Laduke referenced the Council of Canadians as a group that looks to be representative of the concerns of the communities in regard to creating awareness about environmental concerns and resource development at the risk of losing sustainability of those resources due to corporate greediness. Council of Canadians is a grassroots movement that puts the value of people’s lives over the values of profit. Their forces are made up of labour union workers, Indigenous peoples, youth, the precariously employed, temporary foreign workers, community groups and like-minded social justice organizations.
“The longer you fight a project the more it works out,” says Laduke. “Use all of the facets of their system. You have to battle in the public opinion polls. They won’t say you are right…they will say it has become no longer economically viable.”
Laduke touted the video made by her organization during her visit to Western and encouraged audience participants to check out the website, Honor the Earth.org. to learn about what they are doing to help others protect Mother Earth.