Winona LaDuke was born in Los Angeles, California in 1959. Her father was an Anishinaabeg Indian activist and an actor in western films, while her mother was a university art professor of Jewish heritage. LaDuke once told High Times magazine that “some of my most poignant childhood memories are of going to anti-war marches with my parents.” When LaDuke was 18, she became the youngest person ever to speak in front of the United Nations, lecturing the international body on American Indian issues.
LaDuke graduated from Harvard University in 1982 with a degree in Native Economic Development. She subsequently earned an M.A. in Community Economic Development through Antioch University’s distance-learning program.
In the summer of 1982, an ad in the socialist periodical In These Times listed LaDuke as an endorser of a major disarmament conference. The ad was placed by the Federation For Progress, a Communist Workers Party front group.
In 1982 as well, LaDuke became a resident of the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, where she took a job as a high-school principal.
Also in the early ’80s, LaDuke worked with Women of All Red Nations, an activist group claiming that Native Americans were being subjected to “forced sterilization,” the purposeful destruction of their culture, the unlawful negation of their treaties, the theft of their natural resources, and the imposition of a “racist education system.”
In 1985 LaDuke established the Indigenous Women’s Network, dedicated to “generating a global movement that achieves sustainable change for our communities.”
In 1989 LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project, whose mission is to help the Anishinaabeg Indians regain possession of the original land base of the White Earth Reservation.
In 1992 LaDuke collaborated with Professor Ward Churchill to write “Native North America: The Political Economy of Radioactive Colonialism,” a paper alleging that the U.S. government was dumping radioactive waste into the ground on Indian reservations. LaDuke continues to be an impassioned opponent of “environmental racism,” which she defines as a phenomenon that forces particular racial or ethnic groups to “bear a disproportionate amount of responsibility of waste and toxins in their ecosystems for a society.” “Environmental racism,” she adds, “is a symptom of the illness of the society, which has to do with industrial thinking and which is incapable of dealing with the native. We inherit this but it is a result of a long process of colonialism in which we still exist and still live.”
In 1994 LaDuke was nominated by Time magazine as one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age. In 1996 she received the Thomas Merton Award, given annually by the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Social Justice to “individuals struggling for justice.” And in 1998 she won the Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year Award.
LaDuke condemned the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which successfully moved millions of Americans off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs, as an “anti-woman piece of legislation.”
In the 1990s LaDuke became involved with the Green Party and was presidential candidate Ralph Nader’s running mate in both the 1996 and 2000 elections. In 2004 she endorsed Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic presidential primaries; when Kucinich’s campaign failed, LaDuke supported John Kerry. In 2008 and 2012 LaDuke endorsed Barack Obama for president; in 2016 she supported Bernie Sanders; and in 2020 she endorsed Joe Biden.
Viewing the United States as a nation obsessed with war, LaDuke said the following in an August 2000 campaign speech: “We are a country which spends so much money on the military, we have become insane…. We have a certifiably insane country. We don’t need any more F22 fighters. We have no enemies. Nobody is going to beat us. In fact, we are defending countries that already have a big military.”
In 2002 LaDuke endorsed a new anti-Iraq War publication called War Times, which was created by a group of San Francisco leftists affiliated with the radical groups STORM and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy & Socialism. Other endorsers of the publication included Phyllis Bennis, Paul Buhle, Noam Chomsky, Kathleen Cleaver, Frances Fox-Piven, Barbara Lubin, Tim Wise, and Howard Zinn. A notable member of War Times‘s organizing committee was Van Jones.
In April 2003 LaDuke said that the Iraq War was “not a just war,” and that it constituted a “flagrant violatio[n] of international law.” “I am not a fan of Saddam Hussein,” she elaborated. “He is seemingly an evil man, but honestly, I can not tell [discern] the truth anymore, since the media biases are so overwhelming and our motives have become so ulterior…. The United States tolerates some dictators and mass murderers quite well…. Our interests in human rights quite often seem to intersect with our oil interests.”
In April 2008 LaDuke joined Van Jones and several other leftists as a presenter at “Dream Reborn,” a Green For All conference celebrating the memory of the late Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2011 LaDuke spoke at the annual Left Forum.
In 2016 LaDuke became involved in the protest movement against the proposed completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP), a 1,200-mile-long structure that was intended to transport some 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois, from which it could then be shipped to refineries. Most of the pipeline had already been built, but the section closest to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation had not yet received federal approval. LaDuke and her fellow protesters complained that the pipeline, if completed, might contaminate the Missouri River, the source of the Sioux tribe’s drinking water. When the Army Corps of Engineers in February 2017 denied a permit request to complete the DAP, the protesters abandoned the Oceti Sakowin camp site where they had been based. They left behind many tons of garbage that was expected to take weeks for private sanitation companies and volunteers to clear away.
LaDuke was also active in the 2017 fight to dismantle the Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carried Canadian tar sands oil across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. She opposed the pipeline even though a four-year review by the State Department had concluded that it would not negatively impact the environment in any significant way.
In December 2018, LaDuke called for an indigenous-led Green New Deal to address the allegedly dire threat of climate change.
Today LaDuke is the executive director of Honor the Earth, an organization that promotes “the transition from this destructive economy and way of life, back towards land-based economics.” “From an indigenous world view,” says LaDuke, “capitalism is inherently out of order with natural law.” This, she explains, is because capitalism is based on “the idea of constant accumulation, which is what America is about, what consumerism, NAFTA are about, [it] means that you always take more than you need and you don’t leave the rest.”
LaDuke supports race-, ethnicity-, and sex-based affirmative action preferences in employment and education. She believes that “Indigenous Nations” should be formally represented at the United Nations. And she advocates the closing of the Georgia-based Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation – formerly known as the School of the Americas – which was established to fight communism and promote democracy in Central and South America. That facility, says LaDuke, “has trained 60,000 terrorists in the Americas.”
LaDuke is the author or co-author of several books, including: Last Standing Woman (a 1997 a novel about an American Indian reservation’s struggle to restore its culture); All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (1999); The Militarization of Indian Country (co-authored with Sean Aaron Cruz in 2013); Recovering the Sacred (2016); and To Be a Water Protector (2020).