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Wednesday, April 18, 2007 04:52 am

The good Earth

The land’s been good to indigenous peoples. America hasn’t.

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Winona LaDuke: “Look at your energy-consumption habits.”
PHOTO BY SEAN MCCOY/MCT
Untitled Document Winona LaDuke, an American Indian activist and former Green Party vice presidential nominee, attended Harvard, drives a luxury automobile, runs a business, and was recently involved in a major land-acquisition deal.      But it’s not what you think. LaDuke, who spoke this week at the University of Illinois at Springfield, is the founding director of the northwest Minn.-based White Earth Land Recovery Project, whose mission to re-obtain the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation. The organization recently acquired 1,700 acres of land on which members of LaDuke’s Ojibwe tribe grow organic wild rice, coffee, corn, and berries and run 5,000 maple-syrup taps.
Her car, a 1983 Mercedes Benz, was modified to run on biodiesel, manufactured from spent cooking grease. LaDuke is working to procure a biodiesel-powered ice cream truck, which would be used to sell frozen soy-based treats, for the kids on her reservation. “Land is power,” LaDuke says. “If you control your land, you control your destiny.”
LaDuke, a mother of five, says the United States often doesn’t abide by rules that American parents are expected to teach their children. “Don’t steal” and “Don’t be greedy” are good lessons, she says, although she notes the irony of her tribe’s having to pay market price for land they originally owned and points out Americans’ fascination with the rich and famous.
Part of UIS’s Earth Week activities, LaDuke’s speech on politics, women, motherhood, and environmental justice preceded a panel discussion to be held tonight (Thursday, April 19) on “The Future of Renewable Energy in Illinois.”
Among the participants are John Caupert, director of the National Corn-to-Ethanol Center, located at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville; Rebecca Stanfield, state director of Environment Illinois; Stephen Long, a plant-biology and crop-sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and David Pimentel, a Cornell University ecology professor and critic of corn-based ethanol. The event, which begins at 7 p.m., will take place in UIS’s Brookens Auditorium. A rural-development economist by trade, LaDuke says that her next endeavor is to purchase a wind turbine to meet the reservation’s energy needs. The tribe now spends about 25 percent of its budget on energy, but LaDuke says she expects to see substantial savings once the northern-Minnesota wind has been harnessed.
“I’m avoiding the question ‘How many Ojibwe does it take to put up a wind turbine?’” she jokes, but, more seriously, she adds: “If you want to take control of your economy, take a look at your energy-consumption habits.”  

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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