Follow the Life of Winona LaDuke, Vice Presidential Candidate and Environmental Leader

As part of a series highlighting where women made history, we’re telling the stories of Native American women who have worked to preserve the history (both tangible and intangible) and places central to the heritage of their people. In this guide we share the work of Winona LaDuke, who was a two-time Green Party vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader. An internationally respected environmental leader, author, and economist, Winona LaDuke works to this day on issues of climate change, indigenous and human rights, renewable energy, and food systems. LaDuke, who is Anishinaabe, lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.

  1. Winona LaDuke

    Photo By: Wikipedia, Public Domain

    Los Angeles, California and Ashland, Oregon

    Born in Los Angeles, where her father was working as a Hollywood actor, LaDuke moved with her mother, a college art instructor, to Ashland, Oregon when she was 5. LaDuke’s activism began at the age of 10 when she attended a peace rally with her mother in Medford, Oregon. She attended Ashland public schools through her 1976 high school graduation, and credits much of her skill at oratory, logic, and persuasion to the Ashland High School competitive debate program.

  2. Winona LaDuke at  Harvard in 1992.

    Photo By: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

    Harvard University

    As a college student at Harvard University, LaDuke joined a group of Native American student-activists who campaigned against racism and discrimination. There, she began to understand how centuries of devastating government policies and actions have led to the problems Native Americans face today. At 18, she spent a summer in Nevada campaigning against nuclear testing and uranium mining on Navajo lands. Later that year, she addressed the United Nations in Geneva, providing expert testimony about mining’s poisonous effects on Native lands. Years later, Anadarko Petroleum subsidiary Kerr-McGee paid $1 billion to the Navajo Nation for uranium-laced water cleanup and as compensation to people living with the health effects of uranium contamination. After earning a degree in economics from Harvard in 1981, LaDuke decided to move home to the White Earth Reservation.

  3. Entrance sign to White Earth Reservation

    Photo By: J. Stephen Conn via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

    White Earth Reservation, Minnesota

    Although she had never lived on the reservation and did not know the Ojibwe language, LaDuke soon became involved in a lawsuit to recover lands promised to the Ojibwe people by an 1867 treaty. Only 20 years after the treaty was signed, the U.S. government broke up reservations into small plots of land, requiring Native people, who had always lived collectively, to own land individually. The government then sold the remainder of the reservations to non-Indians. Nationwide, two-thirds of the reservation lands promised to tribes by treaty was sold to non-Indians. After four years of litigation, the lawsuit was dismissed. LaDuke responded by founding the White Earth Land Recovery Project, whose mission is to buy back reservation land owned by non-Natives. She worked with other Anishinaabe people to oppose the genetic engineering of wild rice, and in 2003, the White Earth Land Recovery Project received the Slow Food Award for Biodiversity.

  4. Nader-LaDuke Campaign Sticker

    Photo By: Nader-LaDuke Sticker

    Green Party Convention, Denver Colorado

    In 1985, LaDuke helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network, an international coalition devoted to increasing the visibility of Native women and encouraging them to participate in the political process. In 1996 and 2000 she ran for vice president alongside Ralph Nader on the Green Party Ticket. In 2016, she received an electoral vote—the first person from the Green Party to do so.

  5. Winona LaDuke on the cover of Ms. magazine.

    Photo By: Reprinted by permission of Ms. magazine © 2001.

    Seneca Falls and New York, NY

    In 1994 LaDuke was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the country’s 50 most promising leaders under 40, and in 1998 was named Woman of the Year by Ms. Magazine. In 2007, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, recognized for her leadership in advocating for Native American economic and environmental concerns around the world. Her numerous books include "All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life." LaDuke currently serves as executive director of Honor the Earth, a nonprofit she founded in 1993 with the Indigo Girls. Honor the Earth creates awareness of and support for Native environmental issues and has granted over $2 million to 200 Native American communities.

This profile was submitted by the MICA Group, a national nonprofit founded by Chief Wilma Mankiller in 2006. MICA partners with indigenous communities, governments, and foundations to build social and economic capital in Indian Country through innovative, culturally appropriate strategies.

Every place has a woman's story to tell. Through Where Women Made History, we are identifying, honoring, and elevating places across the country where women have changed their communities and the world.

Learn More