Activist provides insight into food sustainability

Peter Tomasiello/Old Gold & Black

Peter Tomasiello/Old Gold & Black

Amidst growing concerns over the world’s remaining oil supply, rising food prices and earth’s growing population, activist Winona LaDuke addressed a crowd of students Sept. 23, offering potential solutions to the various sustainability issues facing the planet. LaDuke, a member of the Mississippi band of Anishinaabe, currently resides in the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.

As the founder of Honor the Earth and the White Earth Land Recovery Project, she has dedicated much of her life to protecting the living conditions and land rights of Native Americans and supporting the work of native environmental groups.

As she arrived at the podium, LaDuke began describing the different moons of the Anishinaabe tradition — the white snow crust moon, the broken snowshoe moon, the wild-rice moon and the list continues. She paused and said, “Did you notice that none of those moons were named after a Roman emperor?”

Many students recognized that this was no ordinary perspective. “We don’t often get to talk to people from reservations. It was great to learn the history from a Native American and also, to see a different perspective on white men,” said sophomore Andrea Becker.

LaDuke found three major problems with our current society: climate change, peak oil and food security.

The Anishinaabe teach that we’re all related, that things can be alive and have spirituality, that we must always consider our impact and that the supreme authority is the “creator’s law.”

“When you make decisions today, they are not just for now but have long term implications,” LaDuke said. “We have a perception that man’s laws are higher than the creator’s laws and so, we end up in a situation where hundreds of thousands of chemicals are in the environment but we don’t realize how they all impact us.”

One aspect that frustrated LaDuke most was the extreme behaviors enacted upon by our industrial society when we cannot address problems. “You do things like blow off the top of 500 mountains,” she pointed out. “This is what happens when you have an addiction.”

In terms of our food economy, LaDuke noted that much of our food is controlled by fewer and fewer corporations, travels from great distances and are overwhelmingly genetically modified such that we decrease biodiversity. Even how we prepare our food indicates a change in our behavior. “A lot of kids don’t even know how to cook anymore,” LaDuke said. “They just know how to heat it.”

She shared a story about the importance of the white corn for the Pawnees to show that it is possible to restore local food economy. As a local food grower herself, she believes that if her community can do it, everyone else as well. For LaDuke, it is not only about growing local food economy, but also growing food that is tough and has a high value.

“A lot of what was covered today resonated with my classes,” senior Pam Clough said. “We learn a lot about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and organics from our nutrition textbooks, but she said that the heirloom varieties were more nutritional, which was interesting. It was cool to get another opinion on the matter.”

As for energy, LaDuke noted that we are “incredibly inefficient” and that we need to shift our mindset to making a positive change. In concluding her talk, LaDuke emphasized that we should not base the value of our life on a level of income or GNP (gross national product). Rather, we should focus on how we can create a happier community and overall better world.

Some students understood that LaDuke’s talk was also a call to action.

“It was a deeply moving and convicting talk that called for our generation to move to action rather than to just sit around and complain,” senior Baley Stinson said.

“You could sit here and pretend that someone else is going to do it,” LaDuke said. “But as my culture says, ‘you’re either at the table or on the menu.’”

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