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  • Following the Green PathHonor the Earth and Presentations of Anishinaabe Indigeneity
  • Nicholas G. Cragoe (bio)


In 1993 a small group of friends, consisting primarily of Anishinaabe activist and scholar Winona LaDuke, as well as Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, came together to form the Indigenous environmental organization Honor the Earth, invested in strengthening American Indigenous environmental campaigns through networking and fund-raising. Although the organization, its goals, and its network have grown extensively, LaDuke and others involved in Honor the Earth's conception have stated in interviews that its beginnings were humble, focused on fairly local environmental protection concerns in the area in and around the White Earth Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota. At the time of Honor the Earth's creation, LaDuke was already the founder and executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP), an ongoing effort to reclaim Anishinaabe control over the lands of the White Earth Reservation and to protect its natural environments. The WELRP continues to do its work, though LaDuke has shifted her focus to influencing environmental policy and practice on a broader scale through her directorship of Honor the Earth.

In the past two decades, Honor the Earth has acted as a central node in a network of Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmental organizations and campaigns, providing connections, material support, and informational resources and carrying out its own particular environmental [End Page 46] campaigns. These campaigns have ranged from the southwestern United States to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and although the bulk of Honor the Earth's organizational connections are rooted in the upper Midwest of the United States, these connections extend internationally as well, including the massive Indigenous peoples' movement Idle No More, which began among Native and non-Native activists in Canada in 2012 and has since gone global.

Honor the Earth's most recent and active campaign has been the conflict with the Enbridge corporation, a Canadian infrastructural development giant specializing in the construction of oil pipelines. Since 2013 Enbridge has been in the process of planning and attempting to implement a series of pipeline projects through northern Minnesota, connecting with the existing Enbridge lines in the northeastern part of the state. Among other ecologically and culturally important areas that would be crossed by the pipelines, the route of the largest pipeline corridor would run through a lake in the northwestern corner of the White Earth Reservation, which, during the late summer and early fall, is an important supplier of manoomin (wild rice), a staple of the local diet, a major source of local revenue, and a historically and spiritually vital element of Anishinaabe culture. In addition to the wild rice harvest, this area of Minnesota is renowned for its fishing, game hunting, and seasonal tourism, which bring in a large proportion of the annual revenue throughout the region. Despite Enbridge's statements to the contrary, Honor the Earth officials have claimed that the likelihood of a spill with the type of pipeline that has been proposed is very high, and the effects of any substantial oil spill on the local ecology—sacred in the Anishinaabe cultural tradition—would be potentially disastrous.

Enbridge officials have issued assurances that the pipelines will be safe, that they will bring jobs to the local economy, and that, because oil is essential to the maintenance of contemporary life, significant infra-structural achievements are well worth the allegedly small and unavoidable risks involved in the process. This latter argument echoes a larger pattern of environmental sacrifice in which certain pieces of land or water ("national sacrifice areas") are deemed dispensable in the name of industrial progress.1 Too often these lands are associated with Indigenous communities, treaty lands, and problems in Indigenous health.2

In the course of the conflict with the Enbridge corporation, Winona LaDuke herself has taken the leading role in bringing Honor the Earth into the view of the public and has become (in the eyes of the news media, at least) virtually synonymous with the organization itself. She has not been alone in leading the organization, and two of the other members of the leadership team are...