Indigenous and green politics require changes in perspectives

Written By: - Date published: 12:17 pm, October 3rd, 2017 - 9 comments
Categories: colonialism, Deep stuff, Environment, Left, political alternatives, vision - Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I wrote the following post 18 months ago about a Winona LaDuke speech. It seems appropriate to repost it given the current discussion about values and the election. Much of this reminds me of the process of NZ learning about green politics. Both indigenous perspectives and green politics require people from outside of those cultures to learn new ways of thinking.

Given the power struggle happening in NZ over this election, LaDuke’s words are a reminder of our own indigenous and green values, how they differ from establishment thinking, and how they open up new ways of understanding the world and the solutions we need for the great tasks of climate change, the environment and the nascent welfare movement.

One of the key political challenges of the next three years is to broaden what we hold dear out into the wider population so that these things become more mainstream.

The one that is standing out for me today from Laduke’s speech is about economics. Imagine if the mana of the NZ government was dependent not on the values of accumulation of wealth, but instead on how much we give away to make sure that everyone’s wellbeing is valued. Yes, blue greens, that pesky social justice won’t go away, but what I said applies just as much to the environment.


Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe mother of three, environmentalist, indigenous rights’ activist, economist, writer and past two time vice-presidential candidate (with Ralph Nader). In a speech last year, LaDuke presented an overview of the key areas of expertise that indigenous peoples bring to the table. (Speech begins at 6 min) She’s funny, educational, conversational and above all political, and she speaks with a native voice without adjusting her language for non-natives. This is not LaDuke mythologising the Noble Savage. This is LaDuke reminding her audience that they too have brought much to the world.

The English-speaking West is largely unaware of how indigenous societies have functioned, and the strengths they possess that industrial cultures have lacked. Notions of progress are insistent that high tech equals better and that industrial cultures are somehow more advanced socially. So let’s take a look at some of the cultural tools and world views that Native Americans have used.

Representational democracy

“We are the people who of course contributed representational democracy to the United States. Now you all know that, but a lot of people do not know that in public office, right? The fact is that the people who came to this country they had no experience whatsoever with democracy. They came from monarchy and feudalism. They came from being imprisoned and treated like third class citizens. And so they came here and where did they go to learn about democracy? They had sources from different places but they went to see the Iroquois Confederacy , who had developed a representational democracy and a confederacy, right? And what they knew, after many years of battling each other, the Iroquois Confederacy knew enough to put their weapons down at the foot of a tree and make peace. That is a lesson that has never been learned by the United States, has it.”

“And when those guys came to see our people, they took notes on representatives and such but they had a pretty significant omission which I think most of us in the room know. Which is that the clan mothers are who appointed and removed the chiefs. And this country of course, when the created their representational democracy the only people who could vote were white men who owned property. And some of that property was also people.”

Restorative justice

“If we had learned something in America a little bit better from indigenous people, we would know something about restorative justice. And the idea for instance in the case of Crow Dog vs Spotted Tail, where Crow Dog assassinated Spotted Tail. In 1882 the Lakota justice system said that the descendants of Crow Dog had to now care for the family of Spotted Tail. Because they had denied them the man, the head of their family, who would care for their food. And so that family was now responsible… the Crow Dog family.”

(The US government reacted and created the Major Crimes Act, which subsumed the existing indigenous systems on reservations).

“In our next evolution, if we continue the process of understanding what indigenous people bring maybe we can create a multi-cultural civil society, where some of these teachings exist as a part of public policy.”


“What we know is that in indigenous economics your wealth was attributed to how much you gave away, not how much you accumulated. Your status and your recognition in society is not based on your hoarding like the Koch brothers. Your status is what you do for your family, what you do for your community and how much you give away of yourself and of your wealth.”

Public Policy

“In each deliberation we consider the impact on the seventh generation from now.”

“Everything we have today we inherited, we are very very fortunate today that our ancestors were strong people. We’re very very fortunate that our ancestors took care of this land so well.”

“We also know that those who are not yet here are counting on us not to mess this up… they’re counting on us to make sure that there will be water for them to drink, that there will still be fish, that the air will not be so poisoned or so hot that they cannot live. It is important that we consider how we make public policy that is not based on today’s election years, but is instead based on a long term view of how you protect the commons.”


“I believe, like many of you do as well, that rivers have a right to live. Salmon have a right to continue to exist, and not be over allocated to fishing trawlers and have their rivers poisoned. All of life, all of our relatives, have these rights.”

“What fossil fuel companies are doing is to combust the planet to oblivion. It is our spiritual moment to stop them. It is our moment as the people who are here, where we can stop them from doing that… it’s our moment, and we get to be the people who do that.”

[Indigenous peoples the world over are at the forefront of stopping fossil fuel extraction.

Spirituality and activism

“That is part of what I see this opportunity as, this opportunity of enlightenment… I think of our relatives to the South… who conduct world renewal ceremonies. And I think about the beauty of somebody who renews the world through their ceremonial commitment every year, and I’m grateful to them because I think that the world is renewed each year because of those prayers and those ceremonies.”

“So as the forces of the unenlightened and the evil and the greedy oil companies and the chemical companies try to poison our water and poison our air, remember that our resistance is what stops them. They get what they want unless you stand up.”

9 comments on “Indigenous and green politics require changes in perspectives”

  1. timeforacupoftea 1

    Grow cabbages young weka

    “What fossil fuel companies are doing is to combust the planet to oblivion. It is our spiritual moment to stop them. It is our moment as the people who are here, where we can stop them from doing that… it’s our moment, and we get to be the people who do that.”

  2. Stuart Munro 2

    I’m not sure Winona LaDuke is correct in respect of representational democracy. Of course it didn’t begin with the Greeks; it was essentially universal in band cultures. But, the constitutional antecedents of US democracy are reasonably well known, and the New World colonists didn’t really look to native cultures for models very often. Sadly.

    De Tocqueville traces American democracy to a system for creating small clubs and societies which he found everywhere – democratic, self-funded, periodic elections and voting on policy. He was pleasantly surprised, as a monarchist, because the expectations about democracy from classical times were descent into demagoguery and violence.

    But the origins of the democratic small societies lay with the obdurate and intolerant Calvinist Knox. Knox was no friend to self-appointed monarchs, promising to slay any who presumed to claim divine right for heresy. He wanted no princes of the Kirk either. So every church inherited a democratic governance model. It was Knox’s model that De Tocqueville found all those centuries later.

    • weka 2.1

      “and the New World colonists didn’t really look to native cultures for models very often”

      But they did look sometimes. I posted some links here,

      Indigenous and green politics require changes in perspectives

      • Stuart Munro 2.1.1

        Good links thanks 😀

        I think it may be a case of success having a hundred fathers – the constitutional anti-slavery provisions can be traced back to Hutcheson, and there are other traces of his influence.

        Nice trick by Franklin exploiting racism to demand better behavior too.

  3. We are the people who of course contributed representational democracy to the United States.

    [Citation Needed]

    Because as far as I know the representational democracy of the US was based upon that used in the Roman Republic. I don’t know of any research that showed that the native tribes of the Americas had such a governing system or that the US system was then based upon it.

  4. Incognito 4

    Thanks for the reminder; it was and still is a great message.

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