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INDIGENOUS VALUES AND PRACTICES OF RESTORING SUSTAINABILITY
Winona La Duke


Winona La Duke is US Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate 2001. This speech was given at the Restore the Earth conference, Findhorn, 2-5 April 2002.


My native language is Ojibwe. I live in northern Minnesota, among my people, the Anishinaabeg I will talk about a concept from among my people that roughly translates as 'window shopping for the future' - or envisioning what kind of world we would like to have. But our work also has a spiritual foundation - 'the law that binds all together'.

Within that law are the laws of the land, and the laws of the people. The laws of the creator are things we all know: nature is cyclical - in many of our older languages the nouns are animate - trees, stones have standing and spirit of their own. We recognise that we should regard highly that which is around us. We are taught the life that we should aspire to.

We have violated those laws: the other parts of creation have not. But we have the ability to change our behaviour whereas they do not. The challenge is really restoring our behaviour to that which obeys the creator's laws.

The first teaching that all that is around us is alive is in many of our stories. They speak of those that are around us as our families: our fellow creatures have extended families, while the nuclear family is a construct of industrial society. We learn that from the wolves. We have a vast wealth of knowledge about the natural pharmacopeia: we learn that from the bears. From the geese we learn our leadership system. We are not a hierarchical people, but if you watch a flock of geese move across the sky, you know there is not one goose in charge all the time: they undulate because it's a lot of work and they need different leaders at different times.

When we take, we only take what we need, and leave the rest. We harvest a lot - the forest is our garden for maple syrup, wild rice, berries. To do this you have to take care of your ecosystem. You always give thanks for the giving of life to sustain us. Just like other people we have our feasts to thank all those for being part of us: anthropologists call this reciprocity, we just call it the way we live.

That spiritual foundation guides our community restoration work. We talk about how we have botched things up in the past. No one has a monopoly on botching things up: it's just a question of whether you can fix it. A thousand years ago our prophets said that there are two paths ahead of us, one well worn but scorched, another not well worn but green, and it would be our choice on which to embark. I share that with you because that is where we all find ourselves today. I find it irritating when people talk of post-colonialism, when you come from a people that have been colonised. There is even now new colonialism: there is the biopiracy of the human genetics projects; and there is the spiritual piracy of those who take our religious practices but ignore the entire context surrounding them. I work on a reservation called White Earth after the soil there. Most of our land was taken by invaders, because we had good land - that's how it normally works. We work on trying to recover our land into our own care but it will probably be longer than my lifetime before it is returned.

On our land we have organic farms, maple syrup forests. We do a lot of reforestation and stop clear-cutting, but we also have a lot of trees and work to show they are worth more standing than cut. We capture the value added through resources we produce locally. Also we retooled a lot of our production for local consumption - about 40% of our adult population over 40 is diabetic, and the best medicine for that is traditional food. We work on de-colonising the taste buds of our children.

Another big issue for us is that of menomen, or wild rice. You harvest it from a canoe. Each lake has a different rice which comes at different times, and sometimes it fails in one place but succeeds in another. But this year we got mad because they mapped the genome of wild rice, which of course they do not do to protect indigenous rights. They also patented wild rice, and we are working on resisting that. That all keeps me busy. Oh, and every four years I run for Vice President of the US.

The US is politically challenged and it will take a long time to create change. For a long time I belonged to the largest party in the US, the non-voters, but I came eventually to believe that there should be some way to forward our agenda other than getting tear gassed or tying ourselves outside factories. In the process of running I learned a lot about communities, about getting people registered to vote, about getting the native vote out. We even got six Indians elected to the Montana State Legislature, which is unprecedented. In running for office I had to get outside my arena of comfort, I have to challenge myself to do things that I would not otherwise choose to do. Through that process a lot of good people could get elected, but it takes time.

   
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