Winona LaDuke on how to change the world: Just do it


For The Beachcomber

Hypnotic beats greeted guests last Saturday night at the Open Space for Arts & Community, where over 500 islanders gathered to hear the words of renowned Native American activist and environmentalist Winona LaDuke. The darkened room was decorated intermittently with large tapestries depicting abstract Native American art and overflowed with eager listeners.

The evening began with a few words from members of the Puyallup tribe and an opening prayer welcoming the group to the Puyallup territory. As noted by the executive director of the Backbone Campaign, Bill Moyer, Vashon Island was stolen from the Puyallup tribe only a few short generations previously.

Flute player and member of the Saanich tribe, Paul Cheoketan Wagner, then took the stage. He serenaded the crowd with music and told a story of a small, humble bird who, against the odds, brought songs back to Earth from the Star Nation so that the people could sing again. Wagner drew a comparison in today’s world, positing that humility and perseverance still pay off against even the largest of woes.

Wagner finished his piece with the word “yahowt,” which means “to complete something together.” He believes that this is the only way to rise above the hardship — cooperation.

Puyallup elder Nancy Shippentower then came back up on stage to discuss the ways in which she has seen the world change in her lifetime and ways in which she believes the changes can be halted, citing the power of a matriarchal society. She then introduced the woman the crowd had been waiting for, Winona LaDuke.

LaDuke presented herself as a “water protector” and described her life through photos projected on a screen behind her.

She spoke of the perpetual fight against oil companies trying to build oil pipelines across sacred, protected land. She spoke of her education at Harvard University and how it contrasted with the ways in which she had been raised at home in the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. She spoke of the importance of simplicity in life, and the lengths to which one should fight in order to hold onto a way of life.

A motif throughout her monologue was that of action. “Just do it,” she said. There are no excuses, no convoluted, intricate response — if you want to see change in the world, the only way to get there is to just do it.

The evening closed with jazz music from local band Some’tet and electronic dance music from Seattle band Submerge.

— Julian White-Davis is the photo and publishing editor of the Vashon High School newspaper, The Riptide.

At right, clockwise from the top, members of the Puyallup Tribe welcome audience members with an opening prayer. Activist Winona LaDuke addresses audience members at the Open Space for Arts & Community, and Saanich tribe member Paul Cheoketan Wagner speaks to those gathered.

Julian White-Davis Photos