LaDuke: Working to stay connected

"Life is about connection not isolation. That’s Indigenous thinking ... how most Indigenous or land-based peoples understand the world.

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke

I have a cyclical worldview. That’s more than the world is round, not flat; it’s about nature. Birth, life, death, rebirth. In fact, the world is cyclical, the tides, the moons, the seasons. The world is also full of interconnections, mutuality, and interdependence. There’s a clam on the Shell River whose birth is dependent on the gills of a fish, birds which use “anting,” or sit on an ant hill to allow ants to crawl through their feathers, cleaning up various parasites. The lake depends on a river, and we depend on all of this world, this biodiversity and this life. Simply said, we should not destroy it.

Anishinaabe people refer to “relatives” who have wings, feet, hooves or roots, or an intergenerational connection to seven generations past and seven ahead. Life is about connection not isolation. That’s Indigenous thinking, and that’s how people can survive for some thousands of years and still harvest maple sugar from a tree in the forest, and wild rice from the same lake, generation after generation. That’s basically how most Indigenous or land-based peoples understand the world.

Then there are the other folks. That’s called the “dominant culture” these days. And it puzzles me quite a bit, rankles my sensibilities. Who the heck calls their grandchildren Generation Z? What sort of worldview is that supposed to conjure? Not a hopeful one I would say. That’s America, or at least a pretty strong prevailing worldview. The dominant culture imagery and practice is aggressive and encourages isolation. Gee whiz, one of my sons was walking around with some helmet on talking to himself in a virtual world with his friends. Too bad he has to eat nonvirtual food, and use a nonvirtual toilet. Isolation is deadly.

This is a linear worldview, exemplified everywhere in the American economy, from the idea of “trash,” composed of useless and quickly obsolete stuff. When we “throw it away,” where is “away”? In turn, prisons are full of throw away people. Those two are a couple of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. and that’s tragic.

Americans act like there’s a nuclear waste fairy or a carbon sequestration fairy. There is none. I see an America which keeps doing dumb stuff, and hoping somehow it will work out. There’s a perception that technology will save us, and I think that common sense would do better. Sane people don’t poison the water you drink from. Corporations do that, who contaminate aquifers in Missouri and then move to Minnesota, because they have run out of clean water. It doesn’t seem like folks want to hang around for another thousand years or so.


We need to learn how to survive, not just how to conquer. But Americans don’t like to look back especially at anything that might disturb them, such as slavery, genocide, holocaust, and a bunch of cool and cruel people all in history. Talking about that history these days is illegal in South Dakota. Learn from history and do better. That’s intelligent.

Heck, we don’t even look back 20 years when we could write cursive. That’s right, public schools are no longer required to teach cursive. What’s that mean? I think it means that they cannot read the writing of their ancestors. Cannot read first-person historic documents, or a letter from the old Uncle Sven. I hate to say it, but languages are going extinct, and skillsets are obsolete, and that’s a societal choice, which makes little sense. Take computer coding for instance. All sorts of folks went to school for that, and now it is pretty much obsolete because we have artificial intelligence and chat.

Prophecies do not bode well for the folks on the linear path I’d say. Seems like everything is obsolete in a minute or so, and that spaceship with Elon Musk to the next planet is probably already full.

Maybe it’s time to just slow it down and think about rebirth. That’s right. And not being obsolete. I really feel like gardening is never going to be obsolete, nor is fixing things, and maybe even being a nice person will not be obsolete. There are plenty of jerks out there, after all.

Each day we have a chance to change. Each spring we have a chance to not plant with a bunch of Roundup and work toward organic and restore soil, not destroy it. Right-to-life folks out there who want to be busy with women’s uteruses, how about life itself, like water, like seeds, like future generations? Why would you want something like Terminator seeds, when the essence of seeds is life and promise? Let’s talk about the right to life of a river, a seed, and future generations, who will not be called Z, but will be called the Oshki Anishinaabe, the new people.

Arundhati Roy writes, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

I want my descendants here for that rebirth. So, I am going to put some goodness into the soil and feel connected.

Winona LaDuke is an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.

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