Updated: Jul 9
1959. It was the height of the cold war, Buddy Holly died in the infamous plane crash, The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS, and Winona LaDuke was born in Los Angeles, California. Both of her parents her artists and activists. Her father being Ojibwe was from the White Earth Reservation and brought LaDuke to powwows and tribal functions at a young age. Her interactions with the reservation from a young age, made deep influences on her development. After her parents divorced, LaDuke maintained a strong relationship with White Earth and her heritage.
In 1982, LaDuke earned a degree in rural economic development from Harvard University. During her time in college, her awareness and interest in native American issues grew. In 1985, she helped establish and co-chaired the Indigenous Women’s Network (IWN), which is a coalition of over 400 native women activists and organizations dedicated to helping and empowering indigenous women while also acting to preserved religious and cultural traditions. Later in the decade, after receiving her master’s degree in community economic development from Antioch University, LaDuke founded the non-profit, White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) in 1989. WELRP seeks to buy reservation land bought by non-indigenous people in order to create sustainable and development of the land and provide economic growth for the native population. The organization’s initiatives include renewable energy advocation, the creation of indigenous farming and local food systems, and attempts to protect local crops from patenting and genetic engineering.
Her desire to help native environment only heightened as the century began to come to a close. LaDuke, along with the band, the Indigo Girls, founded Honor the Earth in 1993. An environmental NGO aimed to fundraise and advocate for native environmentalism protection as well as support other ecological organizations. In the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, LaDuke accompanied Ralf Nader as his running mate on behalf of the Green Party. Although they were unsuccessful in both elections, they raised awareness for the environment as well as independent political parties.
LaDuke has been honored and praised for her work. In 1994, Time magazine named her one of the fifty leaders of the future. In 2015, she received an honorary doctorate from Augsburg College. In 2017, she was awarded the University of California’s Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance. As of 2007, LaDuke was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her advocacy work, a well-deserved honor that cements her with many other powerful and influential women in society.
Written by Alexia Tiches