Published on June 7, 2012 by Amy
Winona LaDuke (born 1959) is a Native American activist, environmentalist, economist, and writer. In 1996 and 2000, she ran for vice president as the nominee of the United States Green Party, on a ticket headed by Ralph Nader. In the 2004 election, however, she endorsed the Democratic candidate John Kerry. In the 2008 presidential election, LaDuke endorsed the Democrat Barack Obama.
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She is currently the executive director of both Honor the Earth and White Earth Land Recovery Project, which she founded.
LaDuke was born in Los Angeles, California, to Vincent and Betty LaDuke. Her father was Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) from Minnesota. He was an actor with supporting roles in Western movies, an activist, a writer, and at the end of his life, a spiritual guru under the name Sun Bear. Her mother was a Jewish artist, who was an art professor at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. She raised LaDuke in Ashland, Oregon.
After graduating from Harvard in 1982 with a degree in rural economic development, LaDuke became principal of the high school on the Anishinaabe White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. She completed an M.A. in Community Economic Development at Antioch University.
LaDuke became an activist, in 1985 helping found the Indigenous Women’s Network in 1985.
Next she became involved in the struggle to recover lands originally included in the White Earth Indian Reservation by an 1867 treaty. Communal land had been allotted to individual households under the Nelson Act of 1889 and later sold to non-Natives; that and other causes had resulted in much of the land being lost from tribal control. She founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota in 1989 to buy back thousands of acres of land within the reservation that had been bought by non-Natives and to re-establish tribal ownership. The non-profit is also working on reforestation of reservation lands, and markets traditional products, including wild rice harvested by the tribe.
LaDuke worked with Women of All Red Nations to publicize the alleged high level of forced sterilization among Native American women.
She 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 is the author of the novel Last Standing Woman (1997). She has also written non-fiction books: All our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (1999), and Recovering the Sacred: the Power of Naming and Claiming (2005), a book about traditional beliefs and practices.
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.
LaDuke is the mother of three children, and now a grandmother.
On November 9, 2008, LaDuke’s house in Ponsford, Minnesota, burned down. LaDuke was in Boston when the fire broke out. Her four family members at home got out in time and no one was injured. However, LaDuke lost all her personal property on the site, including her extensive library and Indigenous art and artifact collection.