Winona LaDuke

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Winona LaDuke
Winona duke dream reborn.png
Winona LaDuke at the Green for all Dream Reborn Conference in 2008
Born (1959-08-18) August 18, 1959 (age 55)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Nationality Anishinaabeg, United States
Education Harvard University,
Antioch University
Occupation Author, Environmental Activist, Economist, Political Candidate
Employer Honor the Earth, White Earth Land Recovery Project
Known for 1988 Reebok Human Rights Award winner
1997 Ms. Magazine woman of the year
1996, 2000 United States Vice Presidential Candidate, Green Party
Children Waseyabin Kapashesit, Gwe Gasco, Ajuawak Kapashesit
Parents Vincent LaDuke, Betty LaDuke

Winona LaDuke (born 1959) is an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist, and writer of Anishinaabe background on her father's side and Jewish background on her mother's. In 1996 and 2000, she ran for vice president as the nominee of the Green Party of the United States, on a ticket headed by Ralph Nader.

She is currently the executive director of both White Earth Land Recovery Project, which she founded at White Earth Reservation in 1989, and Honor the Earth, which she founded with Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in 1993. She started living at the reservation for the first time in 1982, after graduating from college, and worked as a principal of a high school. LaDuke became an activist in Anishinaabe issues, helping found the Indigenous Women's Network in 1985 and becoming involved in continuing struggles to regain reservation land lost since allotments to individual households in the nineteenth century. The WELRP holds land in a conservation trust for the benefit of the tribe.

Early life and education[edit]

Winona (meaning "first daughter" in Ojibwe) LaDuke was born in Los Angeles, California, to Vincent and Betty (Bernstein) LaDuke. Her father, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) from White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, enrolled his daughter as a member of the tribe at an early age. As a young man, he had been an activist on treaty rights and tribal issues, particularly the loss of lands. The reservation was one-tenth of its original size, and the losses contributed to unemployment and other problems of its people. After his marriage, he worked as an actor in Hollywood, with supporting roles in Western movies, a writer and, by the 1980s, as a spiritual guru under the name Sun Bear.[1] Her mother was of Russian Jewish descent, and became an artist. They separated when Winona was five, and her mother took a position as an art instructor at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, then a small logging town.[1] LaDuke grew up mostly in Ashland.[2]

Both parents were activists; influenced by her father, LaDuke became interested in tribal issues early. She attended public school and was on the debate team in high school, placing third in a state competition as a senior. She went on to college at Harvard, where she became part of a group of Indian activists. She graduated in 1982 with a degree in rural economic development.[1]

LaDuke never lived at White Earth until after graduating from college. She went there without knowing the Ojibwe language or many people, and was not quickly accepted. She worked as principal of the high school on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. At the same time, she was doing research for her master's thesis on the reservation's subsistence economy and quickly became involved in local issues. She completed an M.A. in Community Economic Development at Antioch University.[1]


While working as a principal on the reservation, LaDuke became an activist. In 1985 she helped found the Indigenous Women's Network. She worked with Women of All Red Nations to publicize the alleged high level of forced sterilization among Native American women.

Next she became involved in the struggle to recover lands for the Anishinaabe. An 1867 treaty had originally included a territory of more than 860,000 acres for the White Earth Indian Reservation. Under the Nelson Act of 1889, an attempt to have the Anishinaabe assimilate by adopting a European-American model of subsistence farming, communal tribal land had been allotted to individual households, some of whom later sold to non-Natives; that and other causes had resulted in much of the land being lost from tribal control. By the mid-20th century, the tribe held only one-tenth of that territory.[1]

In 1989 LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) in Minnesota with the proceeds of a human rights award from Reebok. The goal its to buy back land within the reservation that had been bought by non-Natives and to create enterprises that provide work to Anishinaabe. By 2000, the foundation had bought 1200 acres, which it held in a conservation trust for eventual cession to the tribe.[1]

The non-profit is also working on reforestation of reservation lands. It markets traditional products, including wild rice harvested by the tribe. It has started an Ojibwe language program, a herd of buffalo, and a wind-energy project.[1]

LaDuke is also Executive Director of Honor the Earth, an organization she co-founded with Indigo Girls in 1993. It was later sponsored by the Seventh Generation Fund, Indigenous Women's Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network. The Native-led organization's mission is

"to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities. Honor the Earth develops these resources by using music, the arts, the media, and Indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the Earth and be a voice for those not heard."

She was selected by The Evergreen State College Class of 2014 to be a keynote speaker. and delivered her address at the school's graduation on June 13, 2014.

Political career[edit]

In 1996 and 2000, in addition to her many other activities, LaDuke ran as the vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket. She was not endorsed by the tribal council, which seldom endorses any national party candidate. Due to the many years of abuses or neglect by the federal government, most tribal members do not vote in national elections and pay little attention to its politics.[1] LaDuke endorsed the Democratic Party ticket for the president and vice-president in 2004,[3] 2008,[4] and 2012.[5]

Books, films, and media[edit]

LaDuke has written three books:

  • Last Standing Woman (1997), novel.
  • All our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (1999), about the drive to reclaim tribal land for ownership
  • Recovering the Sacred: the Power of Naming and Claiming (2005), a book about traditional beliefs and practices.

She appeared in the documentary film Anthem, directed by Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn. The film was released in the United States on July 25, 1997. Both directors were awarded by the 1997 Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. LaDuke also appeared in the TV documentary The Main Stream, first released on December 17, 2002. LaDuke appeared on The Colbert Report on June 12, 2008.[6]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Marriage and family[edit]

LaDuke married Randy Kapashesit, a Cree leader, when working in opposition to a major hydroelectric project near Moose Factory, Ontario. They had two children: a daughter, Waseyabin (born 1988) and a son, Ajuawak (born 1991). They divorced after several years.[1]

LaDuke now has a companion in Kevin Gasco and had another child with him in 1999. She also cared for a niece and nephew for an extended period. She and Kevin share her grandchildren.[1]

On November 9, 2008, LaDuke's house in Ponsford, Minnesota, burned down. LaDuke was in Boston when the fire broke out. Her four family members at home got out in time and no one was injured. LaDuke lost all her personal property at the site, including her extensive library and indigenous art and artifact collection.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Peter Ritter, "The Party Crasher", Minneapolis News, October 11, 2000
  2. ^ Willamette Week | "Winona Laduke" | July 19th, 2006
  3. ^ "Winona LaDuke endorsement of John Kerry for president". October 20, 2004. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ "LaDuke and the lessons she learned with Nader". Minnesota Post. May 22, 2008. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Winona LaDuke on Presidential Politics (7:41)". Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  6. ^ LaDuke on The Colbert Report,
  7. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame – News & Events
  8. ^ "Winona LaDuke to rebuild home destroyed by fire". News from Indian Country. November 17, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2008. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Green Party Vice Presidential candidate
1996 (lost), 2000 (lost)
Succeeded by
Pat LaMarche