The Indigenous Women's Network Our Future, Our Responsibility
Statement of Winona LaDuke
Co-Chair Indigenous Womens Network, Program Director of the Enviromental
Program at the Seventh Generation Fund, at the United Nations Fourth world
Conference on Women, Bejing , China , August 31 1995.
I am from the Mississippi Band of Anishinabeg of the White Earth
reservation in northern Minnesota, one of appproximately 250,00
Anishinabeg people who inhabit the great lakes region of the North
American continent. Aniin indinawaymugnitok. Me gweich Chi-iwewag,
Megwetch Ogitchi taikwewag. Nindizhinikaz,Beenaysayikwe, Makwa nin dodaem.
I am greeting you in my language and thanking you, my sisters for
the honour of speaking with you today about the challenges facing women as
we approach the 21 st century.
A primary and central challenge impacting women as we approach
the 21st century will be the distance we collectively as women and
societies have artificially placed ourselves from our Mother the Earth, and the
inherent environmental, social, health and psychological consequences of
colonialism, and subsequently rapid industrialization on our bodies, and
our nations. As a centerpiece of this problem is the increasing lack of
control we have over ourselves, and our long term security. This situation
must be rectified through the laws of international institutions, such as the United
Nations, but as wel, the policies, laws and practices of our nations, our communitis,
our states, and ourselves.
The situation of Indigenous women, as a part of Indigenous peoples,
we believe is a magnified version of the critical juncture we find
ourselves in as peoples, an the problems facing all women and our future
generations as we struggle for a better world. Security , militarism, the
globalization of the economy, the further marginalization of women ,
increasing intolerance and the forced commodification and homoginization
of culture throuhg the media.
The Earth is our Mother. From her we get our life, and our life,
and our ability to live.I t is our responsibility to care for our mother ,
and in caring for our Mother, we care for ourselves. Women , all females
are the manifestation of Mother Earth in human form. We are her daughters
and in my cultural instructions: Minobimaatisiiwin, we are to care for her.
I am taught to live in respect for Mother Earth. In Indigenous societies ,
we are told that Natural Law is the highest law, higher than the law
made by nations, states, municipalities and the world bank. That one would
do well to live in accordance with Natural Law. with those of our Mother.
And in respect for our Mother Earth of our relations-indinawaymuguni took.
One hundred years ago, one of our Great Leaders- - Chief Seattle
." What befalls the Earth, befalls the People of the Earth..." And
that is the reality of today, and the situation of the status of women,
and the status of Indigenous women and Indigenous peoples.
While I am from one nation of Indigenous peoples, there are
millions of Indigenous people worldwide. An estimated 500 milllion people
are in the world today. We are in the Cordillera, the Maori of New Zealand,
we are in East Timor, we are the Wara Wara of Australia, the Lakota, the
Tibetans, the people s of Hawaii, New Caledonia and many other nations of
Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples. We are not populations, not
minority groups, we are peoples, we are nations of peoples. Under
international law we meet the criteria of nation states, having common
economic system, language, teritory, history, culture and governing
institutions. Despite this fact, Indigenous Nations are not allowed to
participate at the United Nations.
Nations of Indigenous people are not, by and large, represented at
the United Nations. Most decisions today are made by the 180 or so member
states to the United Nations. Those states, by and large, have been in
existence for only 200 years or less , while most Nations of Indigenous
peoples, with few exceptions, have been in existence for thousands of
years. Ironically, there would likely be little argument in this room, that
most decisions made in the world today are actually made by some of the 47
t ransnational corporations and their international financiers whose
annual income is larger than the gross national product for many countries
of the world.
This is a centerpiece of the problem. Decisionmaking is not make by
those who are affected by those decisions, people who live on the land,
but corporations, with an interest which entirely different than that of
the land, and the people, or the women of the land. This brings forth a
fundamental question. What gives these corporations like CONOCO, SHELL,
EXXON, DIASHAWA, ITT, RIO TINTO ZINC,and the WORLD BANK , a right which
supercedes or is superior to my human right to live on my land, or that of
my family, my community, my nation, our nations, and to us as women. What
law gives that right to them, not any law of the Creator, or of Mother
Earth. Is that right contained within their wealth ? Is that right
contained within their wealth that which is historically acquired
immorally, unethically, through colonialism, imperialism, and paid for
with the lives of millions of people, or species of plants and entire
ecosystems. They should have no such right, that right of self
determination, and to determine our destiny, and that of our future
The origins of this problem lie with the predator /prey relationship
industrial society has developed with the Earth, and subsequently, the
people of the Earth. This same relationship exists vis a vis women. We,
collectively find that we are often in the role of the prey, to a predator
society, whether for sexual discrimination, exploitation, sterilization,
absence of control over our bodies, or being the subjects of repressive
laws and legistation in which we have no voice. This occurs on an individual
level, but, equally, and more significantly on a societal level. It is,
also critical to point ourt at this time, that most matrilinial
societies, societies, in which governance and decisionmaking are largely
controlled by women, have been obliterated from the face of the Earth by
colonialism, and subsequently industrialism. The only matrilineal
societies which exist in the world today are those of Indigenous nations.
We are the remaining matriliineal societies, yet we also face
On a worldwide scale and in North America, Indigenous societies
historically, and today, remain in a predator/prey relationship with
industrial society, and prior to that colonialism and imperialism. We are
the peoples with the land - land and natural
resources required for someone elses development programe
and the amassing of wealth. The wealth of the United States,
that nation which today determines much of world policy, easily expropriated
from our lands. Similarly the wealth of Indigenous peoples of South Africa, Central, South American countries , and Asia was taken for the industrial development of Europe, and later for settler states which came to occupy those lands. development of Europe, and later for settler states which came to occupy those lands. That relationship between development and underdevelopment adversely effected the status of our Indigenous societies, and the status of Indigeous women.
Eduardo Galeano, the Latin American writer and scholar has said.
"In the colonial to neocolonial alchemy, gold changes to scrap
metal and food to poison, we have become painfully aware of the mortality
of wealth which nature bestows and imperialism appropriates ...."
Today, on a worldwide scale, we remain in the same situation today
as one hundred years ago, only with less land, and fewer people. Today, on
a worldwide scale, 50 million indigenous peoples live in the wold
rainforests, a million indigenous peoples are slated relocated for dam
projects in the next decade (thanks to the World Bank, from the Narmada
Project in India, to the Three Gorges Dam Project, here in China, to the
Jasmes Bay Hydor Electric Project in northern Canada. Almost all atomic
weapons which have been detonated in the world are also detonated on the
lands or waters of Indigenous proposal to detonate atomic weapons this
upcomin month. This situation is mimicke in the North American context.
Today, over 50% of our remaing lands are forested, and both Canada and
the United States continue agressive clearcutting policies on our land .
Over two thirds of the uranium resources in the United States, and similar
figures for Canada are on Indigenous lands, as is one third of all
low-sulphur coal resources. We have huge oil reserves on our
reservations, and we have the dubious honor of being the most highly
bombed nation in the world, the Western Shoshone Nation, On which over 650
atomic weapons have been detonated. We also have two separate acceleraed
proposals to dump nuclear waste in our reservation lands, and similarly
over 100 separate proposals to dump toxic waste on our reservation lands.
We understand clearly the relationship between development for someone
else, and our own underdevelopment. We also understand clearly the
relationship beween the environmental impacts of types of development on
our lands, and the environmental and subsequent health impacts of in our
bodies as women. That is the cause of the problems.
We also understand clearly, that the analysis of North versus
South is an erroneous analysis . There is , from our perspective not a
problem of the North dictating the economic policies of the South, and
subsequently consuming the South. Instead, there is a problem of the
Middle Consumig Both the North and the South. That is our situation. Let
The rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, is one acre
every nine seconds. Incidentally, the rate of extiction of Indigenous
peoples in the Amazon is one nation of Indigenous peoples per year. The
rate of deforestation of the boreal forest of Canada is One Are Every
Twelve Seconds. Siberia, thanks to American coorporations like
Weyerhauser, is not far behind, In all cases, indigenous peoples are
endangered. And, there is frankly no difference between the impact in the
North and the South.
Uranium mining has devastated a number of Indigenous
communities in North America. Uranium mining in northern Canada has left
over 120 million tons of radioactive waste. This amount represents enough
material to cover the Trans-Canada Highway two meters deep acrosss the
Country. Present production of uranium waste from Saskatchewan alone occurs
at the rate of over 1 million tons annually. Since 1975 , hospitalization
for cancer, birth defects and circulatory illnesses in that area have
increased dramtically - between 123 and 600 percent in that region. In
other areas impacted by uranium mining, cancers and birth defects have
increased to, in some cased, eight times the national average. The subsequent
increases in radiation exposure to both the local and to the larger north
American population are also evidenced in broader incidences of cancer,
such as breast cancer in North American women, which is significantly in
the rise. There is not a distinction in this problem causes by radiation
whether is is in the Dene of northern Canada, the Laguna Pueblo people of
New Mexico , or the people of Namibia.
The rapid increase indioxin, organichlorides, organichlorides,
pcbs(poly-chlorinated byphenots) chemicals in the world, as a result of
industrialization has a devastating impact on Indigenous peoples,
Indigenous women, and other women. Each year, t he world's paper industry
discharges from 600 to 3200 grams of dioxin equivalents into water, sludge
and paper product on the United States Environmental Protecion agency
statistics. This quantity is equal the amount which would cause 58,000 to
294,000 cases of cancer every year, based on the Environmental Protection
Agency's estimate of dioxin's carcinogenicity. According to a number of
recent studies, this has increased significantly the risk of breast cancer
in women. Similarly, heavy metals and pcb c ontamination of Inuit women of
the Hudson Bay region of the Arctic indicates that they have the highest
levels of breast milk contamination in the world. In a 1988 study, Inuit
women were found to have contamination levels up to 28 times higher than
the a verage of women in Quebec, and ten times higher than that considered
"safe" by the government. It is also of great concern to our women, and
our peoples, that polar bears in that region of the Arctic have such a
high level of contamination from PCBs That they may be facing total
sterility, and forced into extinction by early in the next century. As
peoples who consider the Bears to be our relatives, we are concerned also,
signfricanly about ability to reproduce, as a consequence of this level of
bio- accumulation of toxics. We find that or communities, like those of
our relatives, the Bears, are in fact, in danger of extinction.
Consequently, it is clear to us that the problems also found in the south
like the export of chemicals , and bio-accumulation of toxics, are also
very much our problems, and the problems clearly manifested in our women.
These are problems which eminate from industrial societies mis -treatment
and disrespect for our Mother Earth, and subsequently are reflected in the
devastation of the collective health and well being of women.
In summary , I have presented these arguments for a purpose. To
illustrate that that these are very common issues for women, not only for
Indigenous women, but for all women. What befalls our mother Earth,
befalls her daughter- the women who are the mothers of our nations. Simply
stated, if we can no longer nurse our children, if we can no longer bear
children, and if our bodies, themselves are wracked with poisons, we will
have accomplished little in the way of determining our destiny, or improving
our conditions. And, these problems, reflected in our health and well
being , are als inherently resulting in a decline of the status of
women, and are the result of a long set of historical processes, processes,
which we as women, will need to challenge if we will ultimately be in
charge if our own destinies, our own self determination, and the future
of our Earth our Mother .
The reality is that all of these conditions, those eminating from
the military and industrial devastation of our Mother the Earth, and
subsequently, our own bodies, and the land on which we live are mimicked in
social and development policies which effect women.
It is our belief, at Indigenous Womens Network, the following:
1) Women should not have to trade their ecosystem for running
water, basic housing, health care , and basic human rights.
2) Development projects, whether in the north or in the south,
whether financed by the World Bank, or by the coffers of Rio Tinto Zinc and
Exxon, often replicate patriarchy and sexism , and by and large cause the
destruction of matrilineal governance structure , land tenure, and cause
a decline in the status of women. By denying us the basic land on which
we live, and the clean food and streams from which to eat, and instead
offering us a wage economy, in which priviledge is often dictated by class,
sex and race, Indigenous women are frequently moved from a centrel role in
their societ ies to the margins and refugee status of industrial society.
3) The intellectual knowlede systems today, often negate, or deny
the existence, and inherent property rights of Indigenous people to our
cultural and intellectual knowledge, by supplanting our knowledge systems
industrial knowledge systems, cal ling us "primitive ", while our medical
knoweldge, plants, and even genetic material are stolen (as in the Human
Genome Project ) by transnational corporations and international agencies.
This situation effects Indigenous women, as a part of our communities, but
in a larger scale, has effected most women.
4) Subsequently, our women find that the basic rights ot control
or bodies are impacted by all of the above, through development policies
aimed at non-consentual or forced sterilization, medical testing, invasive
genetic sampling, and absence of basic facilities and services which would
guarantee us the right and ability to control the size of our families
safely and willingly . These same development policies often are based on
tourism which commodifies our bodies and cultures ( the Pacific and Native
America as prime examples), and causes the same with women
Collectively, we must challenge this paradigm, and this
international arena. I call on you to support the struggle of Indigenous
peoples of the world for recognition, and to recognize that until all
peoples have self determination, no one will truly be free, free of the
predator, and free to control our destiny. I ask you to look into the
charter of the United Nations, Part one, Article Three which provides that
"All peoples have right to self determination. By virtue of that right
they may freely determine their political status and freely pursue their
economic, social, and political development."
All peoples, should be constructed to mean, Indigenous peoples have
that right to self determination. And , by virtue of that right, they may
freely determine their political, status and freely pursue, their
economic, social and poltical development. Accord us the same rights as
all other nations of peoples. And through that process, allow us to
protect our ecosystems, their inherent biodiversity, human cultural
diversity, and those matriarchal governments which remain in the world,
And with the Unrepresented People's Organization UNPO , we reaffirm that
definition of self determination provided in Article of The International
Covenant on Social Economic and Cultural Rights. Further recognizing that
the right to self-determination belongs equally to women and to men. We
believe that the right of all peoples to self determination cannot be
realized while women continue to be marginalized and prevented from
becoming full participants in their respective soceeties. The human rights
of women, like the human rights of Indigenous peoples, and our inherent
rights to self determination are not issues exclusively within the
domestic jurisdiction of states. For further discussion of these, please
see the international agreements an d'accordes struck by hundreds of
Indigenous nations, such as the Karioka document and the Matatua document.
Finally, while we may, here in the commonness of this forum ,
speak of the common rights of all women, and those fundamental human
rights of self determination, it is incumbent upon me to point out the
fundamental inequalities of this situation. So long as the predator
continues, so long as the middle, the temperate countries of the world
continue to drive an increasing level of consumption, and, frankly
continue to export both the technologies and drive for this level of
consumption to other countries of the world, there will be no safety for
the human rights of women, rights of Indigenous peoples, and to basic
protection for the Earth, from which we get our life. Consumption causes
the commodification of the sacred, the natural world, cultures , and the
commodification of children, and women.
From the United States position, consider the following. The US is
the largest energy market in the world. The average American consumes
seven times as many wood products per capita as anywhere else in the
industrialized world, and overall that country consumes one third of the
world's natural resources. Canada, by comparison per capita energy
consumption is the highest in the world. Levels of consumption in the
indudstrial world drive destruction of the worlds rainforests, and the
worlds boreal forests, drive production of nuclear wastes, and production
of pcbs, dioxin and other lethal chemicals, which devastate the body of
our Mother earth, and our own bodies. Unless we speak and take meaninful
action to address the levels of consumption, and subsequently, the
exports of these techologies, and levels of consumption to other countries
(like the international market for nuclear reactors), we will never have
any security for our individual human rights as Indigenous women, and for
our security as women.
If we are to seek and struggle for common ground of all women, it
is essential to struggle this issue. For, it is not frankly, that the
women of the dominant society in so called first world countries should
have equal pay, and equl status, if that pay and status continues to be
based on a consumption model which is not only unsustainable, but causes
constant violation of the human rights of women and nations elsewhere in
the world. It essetial to collectively struggle to recover our status as
Daughters of the Earth. In that is our strength, and the security, not in
the predator, but in the security of our Mother, for our future
generations. In that we can insure our security as the Mothers of our
Play Documents Triumph over Sexual Exploitation
"They Are So Sweet, Sir": wil be presented at the NGO Forum '95 of
the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.
The play is sponsored by the Third World Movement against the
Exploitationof Women ( TW-MAE-W), a Pilippine-based international network
with ECOSOC consultative status.
Focusing on international sex trafficking the tragicomedy is based
in Belgian journalist Chris de Stoop's 1992 book of the same title which
was translated into English by Francoist an Louise Baterna- Hubert in
De Stoop has given TW_MAE-W the right to translate his book into
Pilipino. The play is based on the realities presented in his work and
onter personal experiences of the women of Bethany and Nazareth, two homes
run by TW-MAE-W for surivors of sexu al exploitation. Women from Bethany,
Nazareth and TW-MAE-W centers make up most of the cast.
Produced with the San Franbcisco Mime Troupe(SFMT), the play is
directed by Daniel Chumley who also did the masks used by some of the
characters.. Script is by Joan Holden; songs by Bruce Barthol; script
translation- assistant directionby Ma. The resa Lauron; An music by Carol
Bello and Tina Quirino.
Excerpts of the play will be presented tomorrow, Tuesday, 5
September 3-6 p.m. at the Voices of Empowerment: Third World Women
Speak-out II (the first was in Nairobi in 1985). enue in Building 1,
Room1,( HMI) .
The play will be shown in its entirety on Thursday, 7 September
5-6 p.m. at Long Shan Auditorium and will be followed by a forum
facilitated by TW-MAE-W Coordinator Sr. Mary Xoledad Perpinan, RGS.