On Earth Day, we need to rethink our way of life

Monikawaaning Minis, Madeline Island, is a place I call home for some of the year. This Wisconsin island is the seventh resting place of the Ojibwe in our migration, the place we were instructed to go to by our prophets.

Madeline Island sits amidst the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, which, ironically, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, the great leader of the original Earth Day, annexed to make a national seashore.

It is strange: He did a good thing to challenge America to make a better way of living on this land, but at the same time, he lacked compassion for the people who had lived on this land for 9,000 years or so.

Subscribe to The Progressive

We’re still challenged by a lack of compassion.

At Bristol Bay, Alaska, and in the deep north of Hudson Bay, Canada, mining companies are ready to create 10 billion tons of contaminated waste just above Native communities.

And Native nations are preparing themselves for the next round of nuclear proliferation. We are the ones who have dug the uranium. We are the ones who get the nuclear waste dumped on our land.

We are on the front lines of Earth Day, and we still have the same questions:

Why does the predator not change?

When will the brilliance of humanity restore an economy that is just and respectful?

And when will our lands have peace?

It is 40 years after the first Earth Day.

We’ve managed to fend off some major uranium mines, coal mines and clear-cuts.

In Wisconsin itself, the Mole Lake Band of Ojibwe fought a 28-year battle successfully to stop a big copper zinc mine. We’ve saved our planet from a few projects, but more are on the horizon.

Until we shift the paradigm and change the level of consumption, our Earth will still be threatened.

Look, 70 percent of the U.S. economy is based on consumption. That consumption has broken the bank — and polluted the environment.

Our Ojibwe people, if Senator Nelson had taken a moment to talk to us, would have offered a different way to go. Our teachings talk about a path that is green.

This is what an Earth-friendly energy system would look like:

We would have an entirely non-nuclear, non-fossil-fuel economy based on solar and wind. We would have localized solar heating panels to reduce combustion on most of our houses and perhaps solar water, as well. We would have 3.8 million wind turbines worldwide taking up a total area smaller than the size of Manhattan.

Native communities are struggling to create this next energy economy.

Take the Shakopee Band of Dakota. The tribe produces enough biodiesel to meet 100 percent of its summer diesel needs and is in the process finalizing a 1.5 MW wind turbine to satisfy a substantial portion of the community’s electricity demands.

In the Southwest, the shutdown of the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada, matched with the recent closure of the Black Mesa coal strip mine in Arizona, presents an opportunity for a just transition. Grassroots Navajo organizations have successfully pushed forward an innovative proposal to replace Mohave power with wind and solar. And the Navajo Nation has passed a Navajo green jobs bill. The Navajo Nation also has a moratorium on new uranium mining, and is fighting the federal agencies to enforce this moratorium.

Reducing expenses through efficiency makes sense, as does localizing and owning energy systems.

That is how a strong and durable economy is built. And a healthy one, with dignity at the point of production, not coal miners dying at the bottom of endless mazes in the Earth, or uranium miners leaving behind widows or children with birth defects.

I’ll soon be going back to Monikawaaning Minis, Madeline Island. This year, we’ll be building a wind turbine and growing more of our own traditional foods, among other green projects. We will keep up that fight, and we will make a better future.

Winona LaDuke has worked on environmental issues for some 30 years. She is the author of “Recovering the Sacred” (South End Press), the co-founder of the nonprofit group Honor the Earth (honorearth.org) and lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

Subscribe to The Progressive