Celebrating Hellraisers: Winona LaDuke

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In 1982, after graduating from Harvard with a degree in native economic development, Winona LaDuke packed her bags and moved to White Earth, the ancestral lands of the Anishinabeg (Ojibwe) people, located in a poor rural county of northern Minnesota. “The thing about being an Indian person,” explains LaDuke, who grew up on the West Coast with her Anishinabekwe father and Jewish mother, “is that you feel most at home with your own people.”

LaDuke took a job as principal of the local reservation high school, but quickly found herself involved with a lawsuit to recover lands promised to the Anishinabeg people by an 1867 federal treaty. When the case was dismissed four years later, she founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project to continue efforts to regain lost lands. Over 90 percent of the original 837,000 acres are in the hands of non-Indians. Using grants and a $20,000 human rights prize from Reebok, the group so far has bought back 1,000 acres and hopes to acquire 30,000 more in the next 15 years.

Still, LaDuke, 36, has encountered local resistance. When people from the Land Recovery Project recently blockaded a lumber truck used in clear-cutting, the tribal council let the driver use reservation roads to get out.

Although the tribal chairman and two other tribal officials are now facing 44 separate federal indictments for election fraud, mail fraud, embezzlement, and bribery, LaDuke doesn’t ignore them. “I need to deal with them because it affects other people where I live.” It’s the same with the power structure in any community, she says. “You’ve got to take them on and change them. You’ve also got to build an alternative to show people.”

What keeps her going, in part, is the intergenerational nature of Native American organizing. “We tell our stories to the children. It’s incumbent on us to offer oral history because no one else will,” says LaDuke, the mother of two. “We make sure the kids are part of everything. In most of America, it seems you don’t matter if you’re not between 25 and 50.”

Traditional Anishinabekwe religion is LaDuke’s other source of power and sustenance. “Spirituality is the foundation of all my political work. In many of the progressive movements in this country, religion carries a lot of baggage. But I think that’s changing. You can’t dismiss the significance of Eastern religions, earth-based religions, and Western religions on political work today. What we all need to do is find the wellspring that keeps us going, that gives us the strength and patience to keep up this struggle for a long time.”

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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