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Native American activist Winona LaDuke visits Connecticut College

Winona LaDuke signs copies of her book and chats with students after a recent campus talk.
Winona LaDuke signs copies of her book and chats with students after a recent campus talk.

The timing of Native American activist Winona LaDuke's recent visit to Connecticut College was apt, she said, pointing out that it fell after Columbus Day and before Veterans Day. As part of the College's Native American Heritage Month programming, LaDuke, an Anishnaabe writer and economist who lives on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, spoke to an engaged crowd in the 1962 Room in the College Center at Crozier-Williams about what she called a "continuation of the Indian Wars." The Nov. 8 talk was sponsored by Race and Ethnicity Programs at Unity House, Connecticut College's multicultural center.

In her new book, "The Militarization of Indian Country," published earlier this year by Honor the Earth, a Native environmental organization she co-founded in 1993, LaDuke admonishes the federal government's ongoing persecution of Native Americans by way of the U.S. military-industrial complex's needs. Historically and per capita, Native Americans have enlisted in the U.S. military in greater numbers than other ethnic groups, said LaDuke, whose family includes a number of veterans. Despite that history of service, she argued, the military continues to use insensitive nomenclature that is harmful to Native people. For example, Navy SEALS invoked the U.S. pursuit of Apache Chief Geronimo and his 1886 surrender, LaDuke said, when it adopted the code name "Geronimo" to refer to Osama bin Laden in the May 2011 mission that ended in the Al Qaeda leader's death. She also lamented that former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, during a 2003 visit to Fort Carson, in Colorado, "lionized" the base's namesake, Christopher "Kit" Carson, who drove the Navaho from their land in the mid-19th century.

LaDuke, who established the White Earth Land Recovery Project in 1989 in an effort to reclaim Minnesota lands that the government has taken from Native Americans, also spoke at length about the amount of property the federal government has usurped, mostly through condemnation. The government, she said, owns more that 60 percent of Alaska's total acreage; the Department of Defense controls 1.7 million of those acres. The military's use of such land, LaDuke said, has not been prudent, citing examples of soil and water polluted by nerve gas ordnance and other chemical agents; nuclear weapons testing; and military exemptions from certain environmental policies. The money the U.S. government spends on defense, she argued, could, in this time of economic uncertainty, fund less destructive initiatives.

"Are we after empire," LaDuke asked, referring to the work of Earth Policy Institute founder and president Lester Brown, "or are we after security?"

- By David A. Brensilver

November 14, 2011