Winona LaDuke to Dayton and all of Minnesota: ‘Help Us’

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Winona LaDuke: "There’s a lot of people who really care about the North, who’ve retired to a lake home and love fishing, and this pipeline is going to mess with their stuff."

“I just wanted to say I love your work,” the waitress at Emily’s Lebanese Deli in Northeast Minneapolis said to Winona LaDuke last week as she refilled the two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate’s coffee cup. The woman didn’t specify what work, exactly, but it’s a good bet she was talking about LaDuke’s current fight against big oil, the Koch Brothers, and others who would jeopardize, as one pipeline and fossil fuels critic called it, “the survivability of all civilization.”

A member of the Anishinaabe nation from the White Earth reservation, and leader of the nonprofit education and research organization Honor the Earth, last spring LaDuke launched a “Love Water Not Oil” tour and joined a group of ranchers, farmers and tribal members who rode the route of the Keystone XL pipeline and set up a “Reject and Protect” encampment near the White House. Last month she was in St. Paul, testifying daily before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission against the proposed Sandpiper pipeline that would carry oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin, and turn Minnesota into “an oil superhighway” that many fear would pollute the area’s bountiful wild rice beds, lakes, streams, and rivers.

LaDuke makes it to the Twin Cities regularly; last week it was for the premiere of “The Jingle Dress” and a trip to the Xcel Energy Center to catch a Minnesota Swarm lacrosse game. On Tuesday (Feb. 17) she’ll join authors Louise Erdrich and Eve Ensler and musician Chastity Brown at the Woman’s Club Theater for a program on sex trafficking and violence against native women.  

Before heading out to the film and game, over a lunch of salad and spinach pie, LaDuke talked with MinnPost about her ongoing efforts to honor the earth.

MinnPost: Your last year has been spent in very high-profile way, with “Love Water Not Oil.” You rode Keystone, and last week you testified before the utilities commission. In Minnesota, you’ve become something of a face for the fight against this ongoing encroachment of fossil fuels and limited leadership on alternative energy. Does it feel like a one-woman fight sometimes?

Winona LaDuke: No, there are many others. I had a plan. I was going to write books, grow corn for the wind turbine. Make things right. Create the community and the economy that I wanted in the North, for my community, and hope that that could be an example to inspire other communities. I just wanted to make it happen, and then they announced the Sandpiper and I thought, “That’s not going to work out.”

I’m a pretty smart young woman, but I didn’t know anything about pipelines. And I hear about this Sandpiper, and they want to run it through our reservation, and nobody knows about it, and I’m like, “What the hell?” So I thought I should do something because I have a skill set; I can do energy analysis, so my first job was to write a bunch of articles and explain it and make a bunch of Norwegians mad. Because nobody knew.

That’s what’s so wrong to me. People have a right to know, and their timetable is so fast, and they’re wrong. There’s a lot of people who really care about the North, who’ve retired to a lake home and love fishing, and this pipeline is going to mess with their stuff.

MP: It’s all about the Norwegians. But historically, you have more invested in the area than …

WL: It crosses our 1855 treaty area [PDF], the heart of which is harvesting. I’m an avid harvester. I don’t hunt, but I fish, I net, I pick birch bark, I pick medicines, I pick rice, I pick berries, I’m all over that place. I’d like to live the life the creator gave me, it seems like a good one, and that’s what I intend to do. This messes with what our instructions were.

MP: When did you first become aware of these pipelines and what they mean to the environment?

WL: I’m a first-world person, just like you. I like pipelines. I like infrastructure. I like sewer mains. I like pipes that work in my house, I like gas pipes if you’re in the city, water mains. I’m not opposed to pipelines. I’m opposed to pipelines that carry oil across the state that have no benefit. You know, if the earth isn’t giving it up easily, you should probably think twice about taking it. So if you have to explode the bedrock to get the gas out of North Dakota, that’s not consensual. That’s …

MP: Rape. Literally raping the earth.

WL: Exactly. That’s really really extreme. It’s the same thing as the tar sands — we live in an extreme extraction era. I think that people think there’s an inevitability with all of this. People have relinquished control, which I find to be incredibly problematic spiritually. We say we are powerful beings that have choice, but we don’t act like it. In our presence and in our persona, we act like we are people with choice. But what we did is we became people who could choose what cell phone we want, or what restaurant to go to, or whatever accoutrements. But basic things we relinquish control of.

We accept an industrial education; we accept an energy infrastructure that is ass-backwards. They are replumbing America right now, and none of us signed up for pipelines across the most pristine areas for really inefficient energy. It’s called stranded asset; in 10 years these are just going to be junk, because they’re so ecologically (out-dated).

MP: It seems like it’s all coming to a head now …

WL: I feel like for me, it’s this moment. I’m pretty agile. I’ve raised six kids. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got horses. I intend to live this way.

MP: How goes the fight with [Canadian-based Sandpiper pipeline maker) Enbridge?

WL: Enbridge is trying to lay the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline, a really egregious pipeline, really highly battled, and they don’t have that in. Enbridge is trying to get a few big pipelines in, and it’s not running well for them. We’re their second battle. They have two battlefronts: One is in British Columbia and one is here, and neither are going as planned. They act as if things are, but nobody wants that pipeline there.

MP: What can Minnesotans do to help stop it here?

WL: They need to pressure [Gov. Mark] Dayton, and they need to pressure the Public Utilities Commission. I think ultimately, it’s going to be a political decision. On the 21st of March, we’re hosting an event called “What’s the Plan?” Minnesota had no idea this was happening. Minnesota is being asked to accommodate an industry that we don’t benefit from. 

Dayton needs to decide that this pipeline should not go through the North. Think, Minnesota, think. What’s the plan? Is our plan to redo our infrastructure for a high risk, and then sit back and cross our fingers and hope things work out? Or do we want a real infrastructure and energy plan for Minnesota? What I want is infrastructure that is not leaking; 19 billion dollars is leaked out of gas mains that consumers are paying for but don’t they know it. Why don’t we fix [stuff]?

MP: What is the main schism between the earth, talking about it like we are here, and capitalism? Many people would see these pipelines as progress and jobs.

WL: I call it “predator economics.” We live in an economy that’s based on taking more than you need and not leaving the rest. It’s based on this idea of endless access. There’s no infinite access.

Our motto is “Love Water Not Oil.” You can’t have both. You’ve got to make a choice. You can’t inject trillions of gallons of fracking fluids into injection wells under the assumption that what goes down will never come up. That’s a pretty big leap of faith that Colorado is making, and that North Dakota’s making. You can’t do the BP oil spill, you can’t do extreme extraction, and you can’t do pipelines across wild rice watersheds. It’s one chain of lakes after another, and you can’t do it. You’ve got to make a choice.

MP: What’s your gut feeling? Do you think Enbridge will be given the go-ahead to plow ahead?

WL: No. I think that we have a very good shot at the Sandpiper, but we need Minnesotans to oppose it and we super need Governor Dayton to say “That’s a bad idea.” … We need to be far more thoughtful about where we’re going and what we’re putting at risk and what we’re investing in. Dayton did say a couple of times, “that’s a bad route,” and he needs to stick to that.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 02/16/2015 - 10:38 am.

    “We say we are powerful beings that have choice

    …but we don’t act like it”

    Powerful voices like Winona LaDuke just keep on trying while the; fracking just keeps on sucking the soil and the soul out of my home state North Dakota and so much, so many more lands soon to be wasted?

    Thanks to Walsh for one good interview. Good journalists still exist but make no big slash in the process.

    Funny thing also..calling it the Sandpiper after a bird on the extinct list almost?

    The sandpiper on the shores of Lake Superior are a rare sight…haven’t seen one for some years…

    Sandpiper…Oily footprint and bird prints:
    May the Bird, the Grassland Sandpiper survive and the pipeline lose its path to environmental destruction.

    Was it Howard Zinn who said that “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”

    Stop the Fracking before craters run across this nation with this latest planned oil debacle

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 02/16/2015 - 09:24 pm.


    In 2000 the Democrats nominated Al Gore, who probably was the biggest champion of protecting the environment of any major party candidate ever. LaDuke’s response was to join the vanity campaign of Ralph Nader, which smeared Gore and helped elect Bush. So when she talks about issues like this, she has zero credibility.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/17/2015 - 11:19 pm.


      First thing I want to say is I’ve always enjoyed, appreciated and agreed with most of your comments.

      I won’t copy and paste them, but the list of things (above) she’s done in what? the last month or two? to put her physical, intellectual, and, dare I say, spiritual and “actual personhood on the pragmatic line” in her attempts to stop bad things from happening is, to me, more than enough to give her a creditability rating above zero.

      She seems to be in touch with the insanity, and speaking out as strategically and effectively as she can, against things like these:

      Just yesterday…

      “Train derailment sends crude oil cars into Kanawha River; explosions erupt”

      (“Smoke on the water, fire in the sky.” And that was oil from North Dakota in those cars, by the way, rolling through West Virginia??? See “Love water, not oil.”)

      And things like this from a just a few weeks ago…

      “Bridger Pipeline’s Oil Spill On The Yellowstone River Near Glendive [Montana]

      “…approximately 40,000 gallons of crude oil, mostly from North Dakota’s Bakken formation, leaked into the Yellowstone River, coating its ice with light brown spots” (and causing the city to shut the Yellowstone River drinking water intake valves).

      I don’t know exactly what Winona LaDuke would have to say about those two recent (but not uncommon) events, but I’m pretty sure it would be something along the lines of, “See? You want that kind of thing to happen here? Hello?”

      But, when it comes to what you were saying is the primary reason for the zero creditability rating, since his Inconvenient Truth junket I haven’t heard Al Gore say much about anything germane… I may have missed it, but I haven’t seen or heard of him doing much “standing up to be counted” when it comes to things like the Alberta tar sands pipeline (to nowhere but Louisiana and “the world market”), or exploding trains, or much other than how he sold some cable tv channel he owned to Al Jazebra (USA) for $100 million or so.

      Winona LaDuke has done “more for the cause” (her people’s, and human beings in general) in the last 90 days (never mind the last 15 or 20 years) than I’ll probably do the rest of my life and, I suspect, if you’re honest, you may do too.

      No offense, but from what I can tell, Winona LaDuke is a truly Wise Person that has worked and worked and worked, using every talent, gift and opportunity she was born with to make the “idealistic” (see the Indian, or Native American, take on reality as it relates to the best ways for human beings to get along with Nature and several other “life factors”) as practical a reality for as many people as possible for all of her adult life.

      You and me and anyone else reading this would do well to stand up and do half as much, or however much (maybe more?) we can.

  3. Submitted by Joe Musich on 02/16/2015 - 10:16 pm.

    No sandpiper ….

    I just said it !

  4. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 02/17/2015 - 07:53 am.

    …and on the other hand…

    …”zero credibility” is a relative term.

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