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Prominent leaders at Brave Hearted Women’s Gathering

Mills College Weekly

By Vanessa Yasui

To open the Brave Hearted Women’s Gathering, a conference to promote and celebrate indigenous women, longtime environmentalist and indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke spoke about environmental justice and cultural preservation.

LaDuke’s speech was delivered to more than 100 people on Friday evening, after the All Nations Drum Group sang and beat their drums in a rhythmic chant to welcome and honor the indigenous women of all nations.

LaDuke discussed the war on Iraq and the need for Native women to organize work and care for the future.

“I come from a family that speaks for justice,” she said. She also noted that the war on Iraq has a significant environmental impact.

“The U.S. military is the single largest environmental polluter in the world.”

LaDuke also pointed out that the government can steal and be greedy, but yet she must teach her children not to do these things. She teaches her own children to “clean up their old mess before they create a new mess. The government keeps on making a mess and the taxpayers will pay later to clean it up.” LaDuke also stated that “we must battle U.S. policy.”

Many students felt LaDuke’s commentary on the current war was needed. “Winona LaDuke’s condemnation of the war on Iraq was really touching because she brought it home to being a mother and raising children in these times,” said freshwoman Heather Balsavage.

” Do not let them take that which we value,” said LaDuke. “Such a cloud of fear exists that one’s mouth is muffled by the American flag.”

However, she refused to accept that and values her right to dissent in ways to work for peace, such as promoting wind-powered turbines. “You don’t need to pay for fuel, you don’t need to go to war,” she added.

LaDuke also spoke of her concerns over bio-colonialism, in which a genetically engineered crop takes over the market, replacing the native plant. One example LaDuke used was wild rice, which is being replaced by engineered rice.

LaDuke said that engineered rice is detrimental to bio-diversity and continuing to produce it will result in a catastrophe similar to the Irish potato famine.

She also spoke about the importance in maintaining cultural identity.

“Colonialism transforms culture. Therefore, one must become politicized,” LaDuke said citing water rights, coal strip mining and revolts against leases as reasons why Native Americans must fight to live with dignity.

Furthermore LaDuke was also disappointed about the lack of a formal apology by the U.S. government for the Wounded Knee Massacre. Even though the government expressed regret, an apology would be more significant.

“You cannot reconcile from a war like that,” said LaDuke.

Other events of the Brave Hearted Women’s Gathering took place Saturday, March 28. Also featured was Sacheen Littlefeather, who when rejecting the

Academy Award on behalf of Marlon Brando in 1973, spoke on the misrepresentation and treatment of American Indians in the film industry.

Littlefeather said that her rejection of Brando’s Oscar helped alleviate the boycott American news organizations held against the events going on at Wounded Knee. At the time many Native Americans occupied Wounded Knee to protest the federal policies towards them.

Teresa Head, Rose von Thater and Pennie Opal Plant were also honored for their service to the Brave Hearted Women’s Gathering. They said, ” remember the men dying in Iraq. What constitutes real national security and homeland security? The real patriot act is to be anti-war activists, stop the war.”

The conference ended in prayer, “thank you for the miracle of peace,” they said. The Gathering was sponsored by the ethnic studies department, the women’s leadership institute, women studies program and the James Irvine Multicultural Grant.