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Winona LaDuke , Published October 19 2013

Letter: Say no to ‘sacrifice zone’ path

I just finished riding a good portion of Minnesota’s Enbridge Alberta Clipper Pipeline on my horse. We rode, six riders most days, seven horses (one for the spirits) because we think our land and water are worth protecting. And we rode because enjoying the nuance of land from horseback – the delicate colors of the fall, watching birds take flight – is something we don’t do these days. We’re busy, electronically hooked-up and loud – loud as combustion engines, loud as our music, and yelling. I know; I am one of us.

We rode from the Enbridge Superior Refinery to a lakeshore on the Red Lake reservation where Anishinaabe people have camped for months over a disputed pipeline right of way. We rode, we prayed and we enjoyed a pace in life that most of us have forgotten. In fact, we liked it so much that I think I’m going to ride the pipeline more often because I’d like to see the land, and I’d like to make sure the oil stays in the pipeline. Know your pipeline, I say, especially if you’ve got one around.

It might leak, as a farmer found out in North Dakota recently, as 20,600 gallons hemorrhaged out of a pipeline. The company is far away; I rankle at futuristic movies – movies replete with toxic lands, guns, sores and extraordinary bravery of men in spacesuits. I hate that future. I’d rather have a more peaceful future, one where water is not toxic, our food and health are good. I’d rather not see the north and North Dakota written off as a national sacrifice area to fossil fuels.

Our prophecies as Anishinaabe people tell of a choice between two paths, one well-worn and scorched and another green.

So, this year, my pride is seeing my friend Gete Okosomin travel far. Gete Okosomin is a squash. This is a squash that came from an archaeological dig near Green Bay Wis. Excavated from the ground, there was a clay ball the size of a tennis ball. Shaken, the sounds emerged, and broken, squash seeds were revealed. The squash seeds were dated 800 years old. That squash, which I call “gete okosomin,” or really cool old squash, or a friend calls the time traveler squash, is higher in nutritional value than anything we find on our shelves – think about this: A related squash has 13 percent of the recommended daily allowance for fiber, 64 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin A, and half the calories and double the calcium and magnesium of the market equivalent.

Then there is the corn. We’ve been working to grow out these old corn varieties, like Bear Island Flint, which, you guessed it, originally was grown by our ancestors on an island in the middle of Leech Lake reservation. That multicolored flint corn is high in carbohydrates and protein. I like buying food from the Amish community, from organic potato farmers like Hugh Duffner, from Darrel Smith, who grows food with the manure of his Shetland pony as his primary additive. I like local food, I like the slowness of conversations that happen on the edge of a garden, the discussions about how the peppers are going, and the delight in my grandchildren when they find a tomato. I like agriculture that is not brought to me by fossil fuels.

Consider: For most of the past 10,000 years, agriculture has had balanced energy and nutrient cycles. Taking advantage of cultural practices such as crop rotations, green manures and draft animals allowed for humanity to live within the regenerative capacity of Mother Earth. Now, think what has happened. Currently about 10 to 15 calories of fossil fuel energy are used to create one calorie of food. And, although agriculture uses about 17 percent of the U.S. annual energy budget, it is the single largest consumer of petroleum products when compared to any other industry.” So let’s say I like the world from horseback, I like the world from canoe, and I like the world from foot, and I like this world the Creator gave us. In our prophecies, this green path is a good one, and I’m going to occasionally take it by horseback.


LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Objibwe writer and economist who works on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation.