Author and Environmentalist
2006 Women's History Month Honoree
Winona LaDuke has worked for nearly three decades on the land issues of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. She advocates on a national level raising public support and creating funding for frontline native environmental groups.
She was born in Los Angeles, California. Her father is Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) and her mother is Jewish. As a young girl, she attended powwows with her father and civil rights marches with both her mother and her father. She grew up on the West Coast and was one of the few people of color in her school. Although academically bright, her high school counselor tried to steer her to vocational-technical institutions and discouraged her from accepting Harvard University’s offer of admission based on her excellent scholastic test scores. She ignored this advice and attended Harvard.
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. She serves as the Director of Honor the Earth and is a former board member of Greenpeace USA. She also serves, as co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Network, a North American and Pacific indigenous women's organization that “leverages resources and empowers traditional community based women.”
In 1988, she received the Reebok Human Rights Award for her advocacy achievements and used the $20,000 prize to start the White Earth Land Recovery Project of which she is Founding Director. The White Earth Land Recovery Project bought back 1,000 acres of land to reservation ownership, and set a goal of purchasing another 30,000 acres in fifteen years. “The mission of the White Earth Land Recovery Project is to facilitate recovery of the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation, while preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage.” To realize this mission, the WELRP also began an Ojibwe language program and began an effort to produce and sell wild rice from the reservation. Recently, the White Earth Land Recovery Project received the prestigious international Slow Food Award for their work in protecting wild rice and local biodiversity.
In 1994, she was nominated by Time Magazine as one of America's fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age. She has also received many other prestigious awards, including the Thomas Merton Award, the BIHA Community Service Award, and the Ann Bancroft Award for Women's Leadership Fellowship and in1998, Ms. Magazine named her as a Woman of the Year. She has written extensively on Native American and Environmental issues. In 1997, her first novel, Last Standing Woman, was published in 1997. Her non fiction works include All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, 1999; and Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming, 2005.
LaDuke is using her formidable leadership skills and her amazing talents as writer, speaker, organizer, and activist to build a self-sustaining community for her people. Her work is not limited to American Indian issues. Instead, her vision is of a world community where all cultures are valued and where her children, and all children, will be empowered to follow their dreams.