Winona LaDuke: Think Globally, Grow (and Eat) Locally
At the fifth annual Traditional Agriculture & Sustainable Living Conference held in November 2010, more than 200 people gathered to hear Winona LaDuke’s message of sustainable lifestyles through local agriculture, traditional seeds and renewable energy. “It’s about how indigenous communities can make social and economic choices that strengthen those traditional values—to be people who think ahead, not people who react—and how indigenous communities can be ahead of the curve, not behind it,” LaDuke told her audience.
As they prepared for the 2011 symposium at the end of October, event organizers are hoping to expand its scope. “The conference has only one goal and that is to be the voice of the need for a lifestyle change to sustainability, guided by traditional, sustainable lifestyles of the past,” conference co-organizer Patricio Dominguez, Piro-Manso-Tiwa Tribe, says.
LaDuke, Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg, who is the executive director of Honor the Earth and Native Harvest, and the founding director for the White Earth Land Recovery Project, illustrated those points last year by pointing out that more than half of the average person’s food budget goes toward the purchase of imported foods and to buy the gas needed to drive to the grocery store. She argues that if this time and money were instead invested in local agriculture and personal gardens, the benefits would be multifold.
• A simple 10-foot-by-20-foot garden plot can produce at least $750 worth of produce annually.
• Energy consumption in the form of oil and gasoline is minimized by a home gardener because the home gardener isn’t driving to the grocery store as often to buy produce.
• The types of food that can be grown in a home garden are much more meaningful, nutritious and beneficial to whomever eats them; this is an especially important consideration for Native peoples, who are at a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
This kind of localized economy, LaDuke said, causes people to “get more pono [Hawaiian for “righteous”] about food,” she said. “Gardening causes people to get more thoughtful about what they’re doing.”
She also argues that the revitalization of traditional forms of Native growing, seed saving and eating is also a form of regaining sovereignty. As Native people return to their ancestral practices of cultivating and then trading manoomin (wild rice), pre-Puebloan corn, and Hawaiian kalo (taro), stories and customs revolving around these foods are restored.
Likewise, in ceremony, the traditional foods can replace commodities that were purchased at the store. Dominguez says that one of the biggest challenges to tribal agriculture is the seduction of convenient access to produce at local commercial markets. “It comes down to having the incentive to garden. You can’t be sovereign if you do not have the capacity to be self-sufficient,” he says.
The 2011 conference, titled Children of the Earth Unite—Sharing Traditional Knowledge to Restore the Health of Our World, was scheduled to be held at Northern New Mexico College October 28 and 29. This year’s keynote speakers include Percy Schmeiser, a canola farmer from Saskatchewan who fought Monsanto over some of their genetically modified seeds that blew onto his farm and cross-pollinated with his crops and Dr. Galen Knight, an expert on nontoxic, nutritional, environmental and immunotherapeutic approaches to the treatment and elimination of disease.
Conference coordinator and Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute president and project coordinator Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, Mohawk, says a major goal of the conference is to raise awareness and provide information about the threat of genetically modified seeds to traditional crops and traditional lifestyles. He points out that some genetically modified seeds are designed not to reproduce, which means that the farmers who plant with them must purchase new seed each year. This “terminator gene,” Dominguez says, could mean the end of traditional seeds. “Once you’ve lost your seed to a terminator, you’re terminated. There’s no way to turn that back. It’s forever. Today’s seed scientists have started a fire they can’t put out, but they have realized their dream—they’ve created a captive audience.”
The 2011 symposium will also have a Native Southwest cooking workshop, a heritage seed exchange and panels on women in agriculture, youth issues in the 21st century, food and nutrition, water rights and use, traditional farming, land restoration and medicinal herbs. There is a vendors market, an art contest and a film festival called the Sustainability Showcase.