By Cyndy Cole - Arizona Daily Sun
As hundreds of thousands rallied to replace their government in Egypt Tuesday, Native American activist and former Ralph Nader presidential running mate Winona LaDuke urged an uprising of sorts here -- but calmer.
LaDuke is a member of a Minnesota tribe, the Anishinaabe, where she has helped the tribe buy back thousands of acres of land it once used.
LaDuke spoke to an audience of hundreds on Northern Arizona University's day to mark the Holocaust -- officially, Jan. 27 is the day Auschwitz was liberated.
The writer and Harvard graduate urged no comparison between the suffering of the Jews (her mother is Jewish) and of Native Americans. But she said the smallpox and other actions that killed many of her ancestors have been forgotten.
LaDuke spoke of the melting pot mentality of the United States, requiring a person to shed his or her ethnicity to fit in, or gain a job.
"We do not exist," LaDuke said. "Because if there is no victim, there was no crime."
Her great grandparents on one side lie in unmarked graves next to a mental institution where they and about 1,000 other Native Americans infected with smallpox were buried.
She spoke of an "unresolved historic grief" that tribes and individuals can feel in having ancestors, language and rights lost, and most of this not acknowledged in mainstream society.
And she issued this challenge to the audience: "Let me say I ask you to name 30 different indigenous nations in North America. How many can do it?"
A few raised their hands.
There are about 700 such nations in North America.
The solution, urged LaDuke, is to create a new future by changing all the parts an individual or group can influence: Growing local food, generating renewable electricity, restoring endangered species, stopping environmental degradation.
She urged that local Native Americans take back the names of places important to them. Mount McKinley, for example, was renamed "Denali," Athabaskan for "The High One."
LaDuke is a former principal of a high school. She has opposed uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, and has founded an operation to grow local food and get it into her tribe's schools.
After a long battle with the local utility, LaDuke hired Natives who were veterans to erect wind turbines for electricity.
Sturgeon were important to her tribe and one of her tribal clans was named for them, but the fish had become locally extinct.
So LaDuke went to Canada, got some sturgeon from someone who ran a breeding program, and put them into coolers to bring back in the family van, where one member of the tribal government worried she'd broken about a dozen laws.
"I said, 'There's the creators laws and there's the white man's laws. The sturgeon know no boundaries,'" LaDuke responded.
She urged the audience to oppose NAU's research use of a telescope on Mount Graham (sacred to some Arizona tribes and the subject of continued conflict), snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl, and uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
"Do not be complicit and docile," she said. "... It's your chance to stop them from putting another blight on a sacred mountain or mining a sacred canyon."