Native American environmentalist, economist and activist Winona LaDuke challenged Knox students to rethink how they view the environment in a lecture in Kresge Recital Hall.
LaDuke began by asking if Native American culture would survive 1000 years to come. She then silenced the audience as she told the names of different seasons in a Native American language and how not a single one of them corresponds to a Roman Emperor.
She went on to describe how as an undergraduate at Harvard, she had to go to the Department of Fine Arts to study European arts but for Native American art, to the Department of Anthropology.
LaDuke recalled an Iroquois practice of asking what effects that decisions taken today will have on seven generations from now. She stated how 20% of world GDP is predicted to be spent on combating climate change related disasters by 2020.
By presenting examples of Kiwis imported from New Zealand and avocados from Mexico, she explained how the rising price of fuel drives down food security.
She also spoke of the success achieved in Germany and Denmark in renewable wind energy resources and how most of them are in individual and community ownership, and not corporate.
LaDuke ended by calling upon the students to get out of their comfort zone and do things that are useful to the community. She wished that more people would be inspired and get out of their boxes
Student response seemed to be generally positive.
“She made the lecture very personal and easy to relate to with a focus on walking the walk and seeing to it that you’re happy,” freshman Lauren Hogan said. Sophomore LeLand Wright said “She has good energy and a feeling of warmth.”
A memorable part of the speech was an anecdote about Pawnee Eagle Corn. Like buffalo, corn was a staple food of the Pawnee and like the buffalo, it was sacred. In the mid-1870s the federal government forced the Pawnee to move to Oklahoma, and they took what corn they could carry in each family’s sacred bundle on the long walk.
Their corn failed to grow year after year in the new land. Four generations later the seeds were few and on the verge of extinction. After much deliberation, some of them were sent back to Nebraska, where they flourished.
This story led to LaDuke’s conclusion: sometimes things may go terribly wrong, but you have a chance of making things right and redeeming yourself.
LaDuke had previously spoke here at Knox in 2001. She is currently the executive director of both Honor the Earth and White Earth Land Recovery Project, which she founded at White Earth Reservation in 1989.
She became an activist in Anishinaabe issues, helping found the Indigenous Women’s Network in 1985 and becoming involved in continuing struggles to regain reservation land lost since allotments to individual households in the nineteenth century.
About a 100 students attended the event.
The lecture, entitled, “The Next Energy Economy: Green Jobs and the Future of our communities” is part of the annual EquiKnox lecture series.
The series began in 2008. A lecture in the series occurs each fall and spring as a way to encourage the Knox and Galesburg communities to learn about a variety of topics related to sustainability.
This event was sponsored by the Robison Lecture Fund. Being a Knox Sustainability event, it was free and open to the public.