Thoughts from the 2014 Race and Pedagogy National Conference: Recalling Winona LaDuke

by Lizzi Hahn

There was a certain grace to Winona LaDuke’s speech that made me feel like she was explaining the first religion that I had ever wanted to buy into. It took me days after the conclusion of the Race and Pedagogy 2014 National Conference to realize what differentiated her ideas from those of other conversationalists, racial respect activists, and advocates of self-sustainability to whom I had listened before. However, after thinking about why the speech had such a tremendous impact on me, it was difficult to imagine her words coming from a place other than spirituality for how deeply-rooted they were in ideas that transcended the specific tribulations of our country this year. She did not ground the basis of environment or race reformation in politics to a large extent, something that tends to isolate each matter in spheres that grow irrelevant to one another with social clout. Instead, she posed a question suggesting a working solution to the problems she battles – all stemming from our first world lust to establish Empire – and certainly any problems to which a listener is willing to apply it: “how do we become the people that treat each other so well, and treat our relatives – whether they have fins, or roots, or paws, or hooves – so well that we can live this immense quality of life that we were given… you know, this good life?”

Often we talk about subjects like environmental degradation, sexism, racism, and other topics involving bigotry or harmful behavior in terms of opposing sides, and this is acceptable because calling out one party is important in defining communal rights and wrongs. No one is denying that the conversation between the subjugator and the oppressed is unavoidable. But it doesn’t hurt, every once in a while, to be reminded by someone with such genius, confidence and eloquence that we all exist and make our homes on the same plane. The beauty of LaDuke’s argument was her equating the “we” with not just one group of people, or even with all people in the world – but with all the flora and fauna indulging in “this good life.” Love the land and love all the things that walk, crawl, wiggle, swim, and otherwise live on it. Period.

Much in the way that soooome people whine about their preference for the word “humanist” or “equalist” over “feminist”, scruples over something as nitty-gritty as labels keep us from recognizing the all-encompassing motive of any activist cause – to regard every natural entity outside ourselves with enough sympathy and appreciation as to not infringe on its share of the “good life”. Consideration and thoughtful curbing of our own greedy addictions is the answer to the issue of racial ignorance and prejudice – and to fracking, and to unequal wages, and to just about everything. Every evil comes down to taking too much. We start to think we are “so cool that we can name something as immortal as a mountain after something as mortal as a human.” We get there by mounding up our rock piles with stones we took from other people in a world where we were all supposed to share what pebbles we had.

My interpretation may sound imbecile, like I’m trying to retell everyone to “just be nice” and to follow that gosh-darn Golden Rule while Winona LaDuke communicated much more transcendent concepts. But if I remember just one thing from her time at the podium this year in another ten, I want it to be her application of love for Mother Earth to all dimensions of our human experience. I don’t think it’d be a bad thing for our whole campus and our whole world to keep that in our consciousness.

Below is a link to her speech and particularly memorable quotes so you can personalize your takeaway from it. Please check it out, along with other follow-up information and discussion from the Race and Pedagogy Conference, and have a wonderful week!

Video: http://tinyurl.com/kztm6rx

– After giving us the names of different moons in Anishinaabekwe: “none of these moons is named after a roman emperor.”

– On her struggle with the predominantly Norwegian school board over lack of integration of indigenous history into courses: “I think you should do your children and all these children the favor, and us all the favor, of not requiring us to do that work again.”

– “If we did not resist, we would be treated as second or third rate citizens.”

– Explaining why she took her sons to the Climate Rally last month in New York: “I wanted them to imagine what it was like and what it will be like if we do not change things.”

– “How do we become the people who wanna hang around another 1000 years?”

– “I’m not a patriot to a flag, I’m a patriot to a land.”

– “Let us be the people who deconstruct our view of place – of Empire.”

– “We develop our own forms of cultural, historic, and ecologic amnesia.”

– “We have become people who lack agency.”

– “You can count on your land if you take care of it.”

– “We’ve entered an era of extreme behavior.”

– “Teach critical consciousness, critical thinking, and have courage to act with it.”

– “If it is wrong for Mother Earth, it is also going to be wrong for us.”

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