Interview with Winona LaDuke: The Windigo Economy

 - Duluth, Minnesota (NFIC) -

Paul DeMain: Introduce yourself, tell us who you are and what your main activities are nowadays.

Winona LaDuke: Okay, Boozhoo Indawemaganidoog, Binesikwe Indashinikaaz. My name is Winona LaDuke and I live on Round Lake on the White Earth reservation in Northern Minnesota.

I’m Anishinaabe, I’m Bear Clan, I’m a traditional harvester, a farmer, I’m an economist by academic training, and I’m the executive director of Honor The Earth, a national Native foundation.

DeMain:    Tell us a little bit about how you view the fossil fuel industry in 2017. And then take us into what the alternative would be if we were to focus on renewable energy job development.

LaDuke: Right. Our economy is largely driven by the fossil fuel industry. We live in a society where they say that about a fifth of our money as an economy is spent on energy, and most of that is on fossil fuels.

We’ve made a set of choices in the larger industrial society which make things super inefficient, meaning that between point of origin and point of consumption, about 57 percent of our energy is wasted.

We’ve made a lot of bad choices in the colonial ... I actually call it the predator, or the Was’ichu, or more the Windigo economy. That’s what I’m calling it now, the Windigo economy. You have an economy that’s predicated on not only taking more than you need and kind of laying things to waste, but it’s so wasteful that it requires this massive influx of oil and fossil fuels.

And in that process, our economy is extracting more and more. And we’re at this point where it’s known as extreme energy, or extreme extraction, where you get to the point in time where... in my lifetime we’ve consumed 50 percent of the known oil. And there’s still a whole bunch left, but the stuff that’s left is really, really hard to get.

And so you have stuff like blowing off the top of 500 mountain tops in Appalachia to keep the coal going, and this point where it’s going, to India or to someplace else, or like the remaining oil that is there, you can only get out by fracking, busting up the bedrock of mother earth and putting 600 and some chemicals down there, or the tar sands, which is basically tar, asphalt, that you gotta add a bunch of stuff to and then shove it in a pipeline and hope that’s gonna work out for you.

Regular oil pipeline eruptions, leaks and accidents, and events like the Husky Oil Refinery explosion this May of 2018 in Superior, Wisconsin remind people on a regular basis that oil production, transportation and use has additional cost factors to the environment and human life.
Photo by B.King - Earth First Journal

Or maybe you’re gonna get the last bit of oil in this fossil fuel industry from going 20,000 feet under the ocean and hoping that’s gonna work out for you until you end up with something like the deep water horizon, which is what we’re gonna have more and more of.

You’ve got this end of the fossil fuel era where you’re in this super extreme extraction. And so you have an economy that’s totally addicted to fossil fuels, it’s set up in a really inefficient manner, and it’s set up in a way which basically doesn’t reaffirm a relationship to mother earth, it instead continues to consume mother earth. And it’s a cannibal or a Windigo economy. And we’re in the last pieces of it because there’s really not that much left.

And so you see this moment in time where in world geopolitics there’s continued fighting, we all know it, whether it’s what’s going on in the Middle East, or the US is in the process of trying to take over Venezuelan oil resources.

The single largest oil reserves in the world are actually in Venezuela, and the United States is destabilizing the Venezuelan economy in the process of trying to get access to that Venezuelan oil.

You see the fossil fuel economy which drives everything, and the vagaries of a fossil fuel economy, which in turn ripple their effect on us. I mean, why would you hitch your economy to such a crazy world of extraction? Why would you wanna be subject to the whims of Exxon and all of those guys as terms of pricing, and just kinda destabilize yourself all the time?

And so you’re at this moment of un-enlightenment in the United States. But what you see is that on a worldwide scale there’s a massive move towards divestment in fossil fuels. That move is led by, whether it is the Norwegians, banks out of Paris, governments, and the Rockefellers themselves. Those who founded a lot of the oil industry are divesting in fossil fuels because it is time to move into the next economy.

And so some choices have been made by the society, and Indian people, first of all we’re the last generally to receive electrification, and so we didn’t quite get all the way in there. But whatever we have now that has trickled down has really put our communities in a really precarious situation. And so we’re part of it, we’re kind of at the bottom of it.

But in the larger picture, the (oil) economy is at its end, and there’s this desperate, desperate move, this desperate move to, whether it is take over these remaining oil resources, or figure out, in Canada particularly, they’re trying to figure out how to get that damn oil out. And you got a situation where you have tar sands, that there’s a rise in divestment and there’s new projects coming online, the Fort Hills project is coming online, and that may give 200,000 barrels a day by the time they get done. And they don’t actually have pipelines for those projects.

And so on one hand, you’ve got a Canadian economy which is today totally hooked to tar sands, Canada is a petro state, and 90 percent of the loonie is predicated on what is in the tar sands.

And so if I was like a smart country, I wouldn’t base my economy on one thing. Smart economies are diversified, but the Canadian economy is almost entirely based on the tar sands.

DeMain:    So you’ve pictured this dirty fuel greedy capitalistic driven last extreme extraction. There are examples of countries that have taken a different approach, Rockefellers decided they’re not gonna invest. Tell us what the future could be if policymakers at the governmental level ...

LaDuke: If there was vision? Right, okay. So we can only combust so much to keep the planet, the temperature from rising. And it turns out that we could only combust 550 giga tons of carbon, which is a lot. I’m not sure how much that is, but it’s a lot.

And what I know is that the oil companies on their books have 2785 giga tons of carbon listed as assets, and that’s on their books. And in business school, they call that an asset, but I would call that a liability. That’s what I would refer to it as.

And so there’s this moment in time where enlightened people, whether they are investors or whether they are governments, are saying climate change is gonna cost us 20 percent of world GDP by the year 2020.

We’re already seeing a rise in disasters significantly, significant storms. If you look to the year 2017, what you see is massive storms in the South destroying and laying to waste islands essentially.

And then you see fires that are raging to the West, that continue to rage to the West in proportions that have never been seen, catastrophic fires. And then of course you see a crazy man with orange hair in the East who continues to propose to move down this same path. No?

And so you’re at this moment of un-enlightenment in the United States. But what you see is that on a worldwide scale there’s a massive move towards divestment in fossil fuels. That move is led by, the Norwegians, banks out of Paris, governments, and the Rockefellers themselves. Those who founded a lot of the oil industry are divesting in fossil fuels because it is time to move into the next economy.

And so you see this move on one hand to move away from it, and then this move by the Trump administration to stay entrenched in this economy. And even when Trump said that he wouldn’t go along with the Paris accord, I think the heads of 100 major corporations said, “We’re still gonna abide by that,” because there are a lot of people in the world that recognize that the instability of climate change, and the instability of continuing down the path of fossil fuels, is an instability that is not survivable by the larger society, let alone a lot of islands of Indigenous people.

And so choices are being made by countries, this divestment movement of five trillion dollars away from fossil fuels who are now looking into investments in renewables. And while you see one path that is un-enlightened, you see, as in Anishinaabe prophecies, this green path which there is a massive movement towards.

The present administration talks about reducing fuel efficiency in vehicles. What you have is, first it started with Volvo, and now you’ve got GM, you got major car companies that are saying, “We’re gonna move to electric cars. We’re not even gonna stay in the fossil fuel economy.” And increasing numbers of vehicles are being produced, following the Tesla example, to move us into a post fossil fuel economy of transportation.

You see basic choices, like we looked at the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Dakota Excess Pipeline, and we saw that 3.8 billion dollars is spent on a pipeline to bring oil from the Bakken into an archaic and crumbling infrastructure of oil pipelines in this country.

You see that, and on the other hand you see that if you didn’t spend that 3.8 billion dollars on that pipeline, you could have 323 two megawatt wind turbines.

You could have about 160,000 solar five kilowatts of solar for houses in North Dakota, right? And you could have about 61,000 solar thermal panels.

And so there’s this basic choice, and when we look at energy security, what we need to look at is, what actually is energy security for the future? And what is energy security for all of us? And bad choices have been made, but increasingly more countries, for instance, Germany is I think about 30 percent, 40 percent renewables, Denmark similarly.

Most enlightened countries ... and even the US military is increasingly moving towards renewables. I believe that one of the single largest solar projects in the state of Minnesota is actually at Fort Ripley. And the military sees, even in itself, as much as I have conflicts with the military, the military sees that stability and security is associated with renewables.

DeMain:    The extractive industry’s call to order is jobs, jobs, jobs.  

Winona LaDuke: There’s about four times as many jobs in renewables as there are in fossil fuel industries. And at this point in time, there are more people employed in solar than there are in the fossil fuels industry.

And as we look ahead, the projections are that there will be an increase in renewables, in investment in renewables, that is significant, and a decrease in fossil fuels.

And if you look for instance at whether it is nuclear power or new fossil fuel construction, that is on the decline. They tried to bring nuclear power in under the Obama administration. Every one of those projects has failed. The last one was Duke Energy, and that one also just failed.

So millions, there are billions of dollars being invested in nuclear power on plants that can’t come in.  No new coal plants are coming online. Those are all being transitioned out into whether it is biomass or ...  I disagree with the term of being a lower impact with natural gas. But there’s a transition that is happening, and it is happening across the board.

A lot of what I’m interested now is in this discussion about what the transition looks like, because in the present configuration, every economy is destabilized by fossil fuels. Every economy is destabilized over the long term by this extreme extraction.

A lot of what I’m interested now is in this discussion about what the transition looks like, because in the present configuration, every economy is destabilized by fossil fuels. Every economy is destabilized over the long term by this extreme extraction.

I look here in the North, and we were looking at deposits of ore that are like one percent, or less than one percent. And the amount of energy that is required to extract Northern Minnesota’s copper in this last round necessitates a huge amount of infrastructure that is not necessary for this last little bit of extraction.

So if you made a set of choices where you rebuilt infrastructure in Indian country and elsewhere where you moved from the extractive economy, the Windigo economy, to something that was a much lower load of energy consumption, whether it is not necessitating five new power plants, or the electrical generation from four or five power plants to power giant mines in Northern Minnesota or perhaps in Northern Wisconsin, we would be looking at a totally different economy in the future. And that economy is a relocalized economy.

The fact is, is that these centralized power and centralized energy systems, not only do they not reaffirm local energy in communities, but they also don’t create local jobs and local security.

And so to me the answer is really in our projects, for instance on White Earth, we just did 20 kilowatts of solar at Honor The Earth for the Pine Point Elementary School. That’s not gonna change things there, but say you have a village where, on my reservation and on every reservation, people are spending 30 percent of their income on their heating bills in the winter time. And a lot of our tribes don’t even have wood heat anymore in our hut housing projects.

And so we are constantly at this moment of fuel poverty trying to figure out if we’re gonna survive or if we’re not gonna survive through the winter. And my tribe itself is paying most of those electrical and heating bills, adding to a deficit which is compounded with an opioid crisis.

And so if I was trying to stabilize something and our tribe is a microcosm of America, ‘cause everybody is dealing with, whether it is the vagaries of a fossil fuel economy, how you’re gonna heat, particularly in the North, and this opioid crisis, which is taxing every community, particularly every rural community.

To me the long term stability of my village of Pine Point, is in how you reduce the misery in that village in part by having some kind of a local self-reliance where you’re not totally trying to figure out how you’re gonna survive.

And I think that, that issue is across the board. I mean, people are hustling to survive pretty much in every community. And as winter comes, it increases, our concerns increase.

DeMain:    You said that your push is to change the industry to renewable energy, What does the resistance at Standing Rock represent? And how is that going to impact Line #3 and other future battles?

Winona LaDuke: For four years, the Anishinaabe people battled the Sandpiper in Northern Minnesota, which was a fracked oil pipeline coming out of North Dakota. It was intended to be 640,00 barrels a day of oil coming from North Dakota, and the only possible route that Enbridge could have. They told us it was a central route. And so for four years our people went to every hearing, we prayed, we had ceremonies, we rode our horses, we pushed in every arena, and we got a lot of support by non-Indian people because Northern Minnesota, is not North Dakota, and a lot of non-Indian people love their water as much as we do.

And Minnesota itself doesn’t actually have any oil, so it doesn’t have an interest in being just a pass through state.

After defeating the Sandpiper in August 2nd of 2016, the Enbridge Corporation announced that it had purchased 28 percent of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

And so Enbridge Corporation is who emboldened Energy Transfer Partners, which was not on the best financial footing, in order to build a pipeline. And they came in as a support mechanism to try to figure out how to get that oil out of the Bakken.

And that pipeline, we all know the story of that, that originally it was slated to go through north of Bismarck. In order to avoid the white population of Bismarck, they put it just north of Standing Rock. The picture to me is really not only just of environmental racism and questions of environmental justice, but it’s also a question of infrastructure.

People of Standing Rock don’t have adequate infrastructure, you got a hospital that was 50 years ago, you got roads that have no shoulders on them, you have crumbling infrastructure throughout those villages, and people who freeze to death 100 miles from the Bakken because they don’t have adequate access to heat, and so much fuel poverty.

I remember Matthew King said ...  “The only thing sadder than an Indian who is not free is an Indian who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be free.”

It’s so ironic and so tragic, this dichotomy between the large oil corporations and the people who have always stood for their land. To all of us it was a Selma moment, that’s how I look at it. And if you contextualize it in the history of American movements and social movements, Standing Rock is a Selma moment when we all woke up, we all woke up and said, “This is what it looks like on the front lines.” And I think to a great extent we found ourselves at Standing Rock. There’s a lot of people that came to Standing Rock, and they saw what was going on, and they kept watching it, and they kept watching it, and they said, “You know, I want to be that person that I’m supposed to be. I’m going to go to Standing Rock and find myself,” and that’s when I feel like a lot of us did at Standing Rock.

I remember this in the privilege of my life I got to interview Matthew King who is one of the great Oglala chiefs, and I remember Matthew King said ... What he said, “The only thing sadder than an Indian who is not free is an Indian who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be free.”

To me, Standing Rock was that moment where we remembered what it was like to be free. We remembered what it was like to create a camp of thousands of people, and to create all this infrastructure, and to feed our people, and to have millions of people not only watching us, but supporting us, and saying, “We are with you,” and coming out whether they’re clergy or whether they’re school teachers.

Everybody came to Standing Rock to be there to be present, and I was so proud to be part of that. We were all proud to be part of that moment. In our lessons of Standing Rock, there are a number of them. One of the lessons is, is that frankly I mean the regulatory system is so skewed.

They always talk about it as the “just us” system. But to me, clearly when President Trump can come in and just totally eliminate any regulatory safeguards that you possibly had in a system that you want to work because we all want the system to work, but the system does not work. But when he comes in and basically changes everything, that we all felt and we all saw that, but at the same time we convened, we stood strong.

Ariel photo of an Alberta Tar Sands mine in Canada.

DeMain:    There’s lots of lessons to be learned.

Winona LaDuke: There’s a lot of lessons. One is that we can stand together. Another is, is that we can find our courage. Another thing is, is that we faced the military. We faced the military. I mean the use of Tiger Swan on our people and use of all of that equipment on our people should not happen in civilian society, and yet at the same time what we are looking at is that is probably what they’re going to try to roll out on line three. Lessons that we learned from

Standing Rock is one: Stand together. Two: Try to figure out how to have a unified command because they had a unified command. We did not have a unified command, and we’re going to need a unified command on line three.

Another lesson is have a long haul strategy. Figure out where you’re camping.

We have the opportunity to be proactive, we have the opportunity to push them back before they get any closer. We have the opportunity in Minnesota, which is where the battle is. The battle is not in Canada, and the battle is not going to be in Wisconsin because Canada has approved that pipeline, and it’s moving towards us, and Canada’s economy is entirely predicated on access to oil, and access to pipelines, and this is the only pipeline that is viable to move forward in a ...  The Keystone Pipeline is not going to move forward because they don’t have any shippers, they don’t have any route.

That’s two years back. Two to three years back before they can move into that at all. The transmountain pipeline may be able to move forward.

Morgan’s trans pipeline may be able to move forward, and that is really the golden pipeline because it gives access to China, which is what ultimately Canada wants. But this pipeline is the pipeline that they are all throwing down on because this is the one that is the largest, and it feeds into the US markets.

We have this opportunity to be preemptive on this, and to think where we’re going on it.

But in November of 2017 the Duluth, Minnesota Police announced that they were purchasing $83,000 worth of riot gear in 2018, and another $43,000 worth of riot gear in 2019 for the city.

We looked at that, and I was thinking, “Who is going to cause that riot in downtown Duluth that they would need that much riot gear? Is that Wisconsin trying to invade Deluth?

The fact is, is that Duluth police were purchasing that riot gear for the line three battle because we are already here in Duluth, and we are camping on the line south of Duluth.

When we heard about that, we went to the Duluth City Council meeting, and we showed up in some numbers, and we showed up with church people, and local community people who said, “We don’t really feel like Duluth needs $83,000 worth of riot gear.” Duluth can probably purchase some things that would help with civil society more.  At that moment when we saw that they were purchasing that riot gear, and that they are trying to gear up these local police departments in Minnesota for basically defending a Canadian oil pipeline company from the citizens of Minnesota we stood and faced them. But I feel like in Minnesota, this is a different battle than in North Dakota.

DeMain:    Bringing the battle to Minnesota I see moose, I see wild rice. What’s happening to the moose population?

Winona LaDuke:    I’m glad you see moose. I don’t see any. Oh god.

DeMain:    What’s happening to the season of tapping? April is maple syrup month.

Winona LaDuke: It was. Now it’s February. Anishinaabe territory is almost 50% water. If you think about our territory, if you think about our lakes including our Great Lakes, that is our territory. If you think about that, you know we are over half water.

Not only is it the fifth of the world’s water, but all of that water has to be taken care of. You have to keep the temperature correct. You have to keep the quality of the water good, and Minnesota’s water, and the water of our territory is very precious to all of us. You can still drink the water from the lakes and the boundary waters, and there’s very few places in the world that you could still drink that water. At the same time, a combination of impacts whether it is industrialized agriculture in the southern part of Minnesota moving to the north. 42% of lakes in Minnesota are already impaired because of industrialized agriculture.

You have mining around the range, which the state of Minnesota is looking at expanding and allowing the sulfur standards to increase in order to basically designate some lakes as national sacrifice areas for the mining industry, and increase the amount of lakes that will be destroyed by sulfuric acid in Northern Minnesota.

70% of the wild rice has already been impaired. In Minnesota, what remains is rice that we need to defend. They’ve cleared the rice out of lakes in Southern Minnesota, but the north is still strong with our rice. You have crashing of one population after another.

We all feel it. I mean as I drive through my territory there are no birds and there are no insects. There were no insects this year. That is the result of all of the chemicals. Then what happens to the fish? What happens to the birds that eat those insects, right? There used to be billions of passenger pigeons, and there used to be billions of geese. You don’t see that anymore. You see a decline in all of those populations. Significant decline in all of those populations.

You see the moose, which two years ago we were able to get listed on the endangered species list because there’s been about an 80% drop in the moose population in Minnesota already. That is a combination of many things including habitat impact, and climate change.

As the climate changes, it transforms the whole territory.

As the climate changes in Minnesota, all of these things become more and more delicate, and more and more at risk. What we don’t need is anything else, and that’s why this battle over whether it is the pipelines or over the battle of mining is so important because all of those little beings count on us to be able to ... Or big beings like a moose. They count on us that we will not mess this up. This last little bit that we have. That’s this moment.

What I see is that in our prophecies they talk about the Time of the Seventh Fire, and they say, “In this time, we’ll have a choice between two paths. One being well worn, but scorched and the other being green.” As I see where we are going, there is this move on globalization, and certainly the Trump administration the Windigo economy as it has been for the past 300 years of extraction, and mining, and pillaging.

Then there is this move that says, “We cannot continue that.” I looked through the north, and what is increasing dramatically is the rise of solar energy. What is increasing dramatically is the rise of local food systems where you don’t have to transport your food from California or from Chile where you can eat more and more local foods at much lower carbon impact.

What I see is not only the rise of fuel efficiency, but I see the rise of things like the electric car. In my case, I look at this and I think of the pieces that we need to transform, and so this last year I started to work on hemp.

DeMain:    I wanted to ask you how you saw the end battle, you wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t think there’s something hopeful about it. Is there hope? Where are we going to be 200 years from now or 1000? What are you grandchildren seven generations from now going to get? Are they going to be able to look back and say, “She was hopeful.”

Winona LaDuke: We all look out there and see the same thing, and maybe some of us are more tuned to what we see. The grief that we experience from the loss of things. That is so deep, and you know it  is because you watched it as I like you have more winters behind me that I have ahead of me.

I think about the things that I used to see that I don’t now. I mean first I think about when things return, and I’ve been part of seeing things come back. I’ve been part of seeing the sturgeon come back to my territory, and I saw what that did to our people like when we saw something that can come home, and we could take care of it, and we could ... It could be present in our lakes again.

I’ve seen the return of our food systems. I’ve worked a long time to bring back our corn varieties, and I visited with someone a couple of days ago who was talking about taking a Bear Island flint corn, and open pollinating it with an Argentinian corn that is orange, and increasing our corn varieties, our traditional corn varieties.

It’s the traditional varieties, and if you add in these other varieties like this Argentinian variety it’s all full of beta carotene.

I think about how with vision and prayer you can make something even more beautiful. One day our Bear Island flint will adapt some of it, we will have a corn that is this beautiful possibility for feeding so many people, and I think about corn perhaps as a little bit of a lesson because corn didn’t exist in nature. It only exists as a result of a relationship between humans and the plant, and humans and the creator.

In that, many days I really am weary of humans. I lose my patience with us, I lose my ... Well, I try to keep, many of us try to keep a connection to that which is real. I watch generations and people getting more and more into a box, and that box might be that they don’t leave the res or that box might be that they don’t even leave their house anymore. They just watch TV or their box might be their little phone.

But then I see someone break out and go back into the woods, and experience what it is like to be so present in the greatness of a place where you pick Labrador tea. Or go out and listen to the waves that are so much more ... They’re so much larger than us. I mean this natural world is so much larger than us, and I see people in this younger generation, many of them came to Standing Rock, and while the 1% may not like us, their children do. Their children are with us.

Enbridge officials asked law enforcement officials to remove Winona Laduke from 2016 public hearings after she asked Enbridge representatives if they planned to bring their security dogs, tear gas, rubber bullets and other military equipment from Standing Rock, North Dakota to northern Minnesota for the battle over Line #3     HTE Photo

While I see the bastions of old power stand, I see that more and more people turn from them, and I see more and more people not only do the right thing in terms of an economy, but do the right thing in terms of their heart and finding their courage. I have great hope. I look at my descendants, and I have many who have come to me and they’re now my descendants, and I look at them, and I have great hope for them as I see how they find themselves, and I believe the creator watches over us, and takes pity on us. and helps us to find our way if we ask.

Then I look at where we are going, and I feel that in the face of the craziness of the Windigo Economy we have always had those who fight the Windigo and the Anishinaabe have killed the Windigo many times in the winter. Now is the time to kill the Windigo.

That’s what we must summon up in our courage in ourselves to do that, and as we do that we find that place that is good, and that path is there for us, and many of us have been working to make that path. I look at the courage of our history, and then I look at the teachings that you get from watching. The adaptation of whether it is a species or something as beautiful as a seed in corn.

If we did not ... When we plant each spring, it is a payer and hope that we will be able to harvest. A seed gives us that hope because when you plant that seed it is not just one seed that comes from it, it is hundreds of seeds that are in the case of that old squash. They say that there’s 1600 seeds per squash. If a plant is not hope, if the plant did not believe that it was going to continue it would not give you seeds.

What I know is, is that in the non-seed varieties that are GMO there is no hope. But in our relatives that are those plants, there is tremendous hope. It is our job to create the ability or restore the ability in our soil for those plants to come back or those plants to grow again.

To me, I look at the younger generation and I do have hope, and I look to our relatives particularly those that are those plants, and I have great hope. Then we all do the best we can in our lives. You cannot do everything, but what I know is, is that I’ve spent most of my life fighting bad ideas.

What I’m far more interested in is articulating where we are going. To me, the next economy is one that is based not on taking more than you need and laying to waste because that is a Windigo Economy, but is on taking only what you need, and leaving the rest, and in restoring our covenant with the creator, and our covenant with creation where we as agents of so much destruction are also agents of so much change that is good and of beauty.

To me that’s what the next economy looks like.

On The Net:


Support or NFIC. Thank YOU!!