Women in Leadership: Voices for Change

On Thursday, March 6, Winona LaDuke spoke at Bellevue College regarding her work fighting oil pipelines, as well as discussion of threats to the environment from fossil fuels. She is the executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization that works for environmental justice. She has a degree in rural economic development from Harvard and an MA in community economic development from Antioch University. As part of Minnesota’s native Anishinaabe community, she has been working in land recovery efforts and environmental activism for over 25 years. She had worked with Native Harvest, a company she founded which makes and sells Natie American foods and other products. LaDuke also ran for vice president as the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000, with Ralph Nader.

She started her lecture with a short video, “The Triple Crown of Pipeline Rides,” which featured LaDuke and other activists riding horses along the routes of three proposed pipelines: the Alberta Clipper expansion and the Enbridge Sandpiper in Minnesota and the Keystone XL in South Dakota. “We’re not protestors, we’re protectors,” she intoned. (This video is available on several websites, including YouTube). She said her community has a “very rural, pristine ecosystem that has a lot of lakes and rivers and they want to put some high-risk pipelines to move oil across us, and we’re opposing it.” She has created alliances between the native tribes and Minnesota’s Norwegian and German populations. “[These issues are] totally multi-racial,” she said, “because corporations don’t own us.” She also discussed the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point in Bellingham, Wash., which is opposed by the local Lummi Nation. She said it would be “moving coal from Montana, from people who don’t want a mine, to markets in Asia….They will tell you the profits, they will tell you the jobs. But they won’t tell you the liability for every town along the way, the increased health costs of exposure to more coal. The loss of fishing wealth of Lummi…and the dangers in the Salish Sea.”

While part of her talk focused on the hazards of fuel transport (pipeline leakages, crashed and exploding transport vehicles), she also discussed the environmental dangers of fracking, increasing global temperatures and higher levels of CO2 in the oceans. Three slides highlighted “three scary numbers” — two: the number of degrees the global average temperature can rise before “catastrophic” global warming occurs; 565: the number of gigatons of CO2 required to raise the temperature two degrees; and 2,795: the number of gigatons of CO2 represented by fuel that are in the “reserves” of the energy companies.

Some of the solutions she proposed were localized and stabilized food economics (e.g. eating food grown locally, instead of “ship[ping] food around the planet”) and wind turbines and other alternative energy sources. She recommended that students campaign to get their colleges and universities to divest (sell off) their financial holdings in fossil fuel corporations.

Rob Viens, the dean of the science division, was in attendance. “Winona LaDuke’s kind of a legend,” he said. “I’ve known of her work for a long time, and it’s great to really get to see and hear her, because she’s such a powerful speaker.” Andrea Torres, ASG vice president, was also at the lecture. She said, “The things that are going on with our planet…are scary… This is our planet, this is where we all live…so this affects all of us. I think it’s common sense, the things that we need to be working on.”

LaDuke stressed that environmental problems wouldn’t just go away if we ignore them. “They’re [only] going to get better to the extent that we’re able to address and mitigate,” she said.