Environment | National

Native Sun News: Winona LaDuke turns attention to the military

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Anishinaabe author, economist and activist Winona LaDuke from White Earth, Minn., presents her book “The Militarization of Indian Country” at Prairie Edge in Rapid City Aug. 13. COURTESY/CHRISTIANE TOLMAN-LOESCH

Author wants Native America to check military’s impact
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY — Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe from White Earth, Minn., is a longtime activist and author of books for the cause of indigenous environmental justice. Why then is she releasing a book about the military?

She answered that question in-depth during a presentation and signing of “The Militarization of Indian Country,” held at Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries in Rapid City on Aug. 13.

“Native American militarization is not particularly an issue to discuss: It’s something we don’t talk about,” LaDuke said. “The environmental community doesn’t address the military issue.”

But, she added, “If we do not recognize the broader implications of militarization in our Native communities, we miss something significant in terms of land and our psychology.”

Written with the editorial assistance of Sean Cruz, the book could be a spark igniting awareness of a need for leaders to return to the traditional warrior mentality of the Ogichidaag, who is more a philosopher of peace than a chief of war.

“The practice of the peace chief is the practice of a healer,” says Comanche and Kiowa professor Cornel Pewewardy, director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University and a native of Fort Sill, where the story begins.

“The work of a contemporary warrior is to take the responsibility to be self-actualized,” he says in the book’s foreword. But for such a transition, the current state of affairs and its history must first be acknowledged, as it is in the 70-some pages comprising “The Militarization of Indian Country.”

LaDuke reflects on the scope of Native peoples’ past and present relationship with the military – discussing economic, ecological and emotional impacts.

She then examines the potential for a transformation from a military economy to a community-centered model that “values our Native cultures and traditions and honors our Mother Earth,” as she puts it.

“I sincerely hope that this book will be read widely … and that the ideas of the warrior philosopher addressed herein will be appropriated by all human beings,” Pewewardy says of it.

LaDuke traveled to Fort Sill, a U.S. Army post near Lawton, Okla., to crack the writer’s block that stymied her at the outset of this, her fifth book.

Like many of the Indian reservations and tribal headquarters named after forts today, Fort Sill is essentially an 1880s concentration camp for Native American survivors of starvation tactics the military enforced against them in the war to gain the lands forming the United States.

The visit worked. Not long afterward, she wrote: “Since the first European colonizers arrived, the military has been a blunt instrument of genocide, carrying out policies of removal and extermination against native peoples.

“Following the Indian Wars, we experienced the forced assimilation of boarding schools, which were founded by an army colonel, Richard Pratt, and which left a history of transformative loss of language and culture.

“The modern military has taken our lands for bombing exercises and military bases, and for the experimentation and storage of the deadliest chemical agents and toxins known to mankind. Today, the military continues to bomb Native Hawaiian lands,” she noted.

With the “unresolved historic grief” of this legacy and “the present appropriation of our lands and culture by the military,” as stated by the author, how is it, then, that Native Americans have the highest rate of military enlistment of any ethnic group in the United States?

Introducing the third edition of the book, which was finalized in February and is slated for publication by Michigan State University Press, LaDuke tackled that question.

“Ogichidaag is a word the Ojibwe borrowed from the Lakota and loosely means warrior, or one who defends the people,” she said in Rapid City. “That, in part, I think, is why we became the group with the highest rate of enlistment.”

It is well-known that Native Americans hold their veterans in high esteem, recognizing them in public ceremonies as part of healing rituals for their battle scars, she acknowledged.

Beside being proud of a warrior society heritage, Native Americans often live in areas with depressed economies, where enlistment is a welcome alternative to unemployment, she noted.

The downside – in addition to Indian veterans having the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of any ethnic group – is that their avid soldiering and heroism have been their indoctrination into undesirable, non-Indian behavioral modes, LaDuke said.

She cited attitude changes toward women and political power.

Due to the very high Indian enlistment in World War II, veterans who had come from matriarchal tribal backgrounds that worshipped nature had a “social and spiritual transition forced on them,” she said.

This transformation consisted in the belief that man is more powerful than woman and nature, said LaDuke. The upside of today’s military in the United States, she said, is its status as the third-largest proponent of renewable energy, including wind energy available from Indian reservations.

For example, Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota is the largest single purchaser of electricity from the Rosebud Reservation’s wind turbine.

The book-signing in Rapid City was the first time LaDuke presented her book in a bookstore, she said. About a dozen people attended.

Her presentation of the first edition was more spectacular. She handed out 50 copies to the delegates of the U.N. Permanent Forum for the Rights of Indigenous People at a meeting two years ago.

Since then, “The Militarization of Indian Country” has sold more than 2,500 copies. All proceeds go to her Minnesota-based nonprofit, Honor the Earth.

LaDuke and the Indigo Girls, musicians Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, established Honor the Earth in 1993 to reduce Native American communities’ isolation and increase funding for the indigenous environmental movement.

She thanked authors Vine Deloria Jr. and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn for blazing a trail for the next generation of Native American authors such as herself to obtain the indulgence of the academic press.

She expects the third edition of “The Militarization of Indian Country” to be available this fall with the support of MSU Press’ American Indian Studies Series, Makwa Enewed, which is “dedicated to books that encompass the varied views and perspectives of people working in American Indian communities.”

LaDuke said she would like to take the book to reservations and Native American colleges to broaden the discussion it opens.

“I hope that some readers are encouraged to critically examine native peoples’ relationship with the military, and start the work of transforming it,” she states in the book’s preface.

“The Militarization of Indian Country” is available at the Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries bookstore, along with her other titles, “All Our Relations,” “Last Standing Woman,” “Recovering the Sacred” and “The Winona LaDuke Reader.”

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

(c) Native Sun News

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