Former Vice Presidential Hopeful Says Tribes' Welfare in Peril

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Native American tribes are being shut out of the profitable wild rice market, said former vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke in a speech at UC Berkeley Friday.

LaDuke, who ran for vice president on the Green Party ticket alongside Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000, is a Minnesota Anishinaabeg Native American. She founded the Indigenous Women's Network and the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which works to reclaim and purchase tribal lands.

The Anishinaabeg tribe and its surrounding tribes make a large portion of their income from the harvest and sale of wild rice. But recently the rice was patented by a large company, thereby threatening the tribes' livelihood, LaDuke said.

Winona LaDuke

"This is an example of globalization," LaDuke said. "Their process is about creating monocrops, while our rice is about biodiversity."

The tribe is undergoing a legal struggle with the company over rights and ownership of the wild rice, she said.

In her speech, LaDuke also focused on U.S. policies, criticizing the U.S. government for its spending policies.

While the United States was fighting a war on terrorism in Afghanistan, it was funding terrorism in other parts of the world through dealings in small arms, LaDuke said.

"If we do not support terrorism, let us not fund it," she said.

LaDuke also said nuclear power is superfluous and harmful.

"There are a hell of a lot of better ways to boil water than with a nuclear reactor-that's like cutting butter with a chain saw," she said. "The solution is don't make the mess if you don't know how to clean it up."

LaDuke said she became politically active because of her heritage's importance to her and her dedication to motherhood.

"To be a responsible parent, I have to engage in a higher level of political activism," she said.

UC Berkeley graduate student Sonya Atalay, a member of the Anishinaabeg tribe who was instrumental in bringing LaDuke to the campus, said the speech was "inspiring."

"She is a powerful role model, not just for Indian students and the larger Native American community but for all concerned members of this 'global village' we've created," Atalay said. "Seeing Winona so gracefully handle the demands of motherhood, activism, writing and politics while still following our traditional Anishinaabeg teachings and practices is powerful and inspiring for me."

Ann Begay, a Navajo and UC Berkeley alumna, said LaDuke's speech may move some students to become politically active.

"Tonight was an experience in reality for how an indigenous woman makes a difference in her everyday life,"Begay said.

The talk was the first in a series of speakers sponsored by UC Berkeley's American Indian Graduate Program.


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