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Winona LaDuke Gives Penn State A Taste Of The Future Economy In SPA Lecture

“I’ve spent my life fighting bad ideas.”

That was a phrase Winona LaDuke repeated throughout her lecture Tuesday night at the HUB, sponsored by the Student Programming Association.

A former vice-presidential nominee, LaDuke was Ralph Nader’s runningmate in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections. She’s also the executive director of environmental advocacy organization Honor the Earth, a group that made a name for itself working against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The talk started with a music video for a song called “Love Letters To God” by the band Nahko and Medicine for the People. Showing footage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, LaDuke used it as a jumpstart to her lecture.

She then gave a very brief history of her tribe, a band of the Ojibwe people from the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota.

LaDuke told the audience about a legend of her people, when they were told a prophecy where the Ojibwe had to make a choice in the future. They would have two paths to choose from, “one well-walked but scorched, and one not well-walked, but green.”

This legend was related to LaDuke’s greater message, that the United States is facing a choice of those two paths, and that we’re currently going down the scorched one. Despite beginning with Native American advocacy and the effects of climate change, the primary focus of LaDuke’s lecture was on economics. Having graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in economics, she considers herself an economist first and foremost.

Much of what LaDuke focused was the “next economy,” or, what could come after today’s fossil fuel driven world. She also called it the “Post Wendigo Economy,” referring to the cannibalistic creature from Algonquian folklore.

LaDuke used her tribe and others across America as examples of the “next economy,” one focused on renewable energy and building up infrastructure. Her tribe recently installed a collection of solar panels, inspired by a solar panel project by the Navajo Nation. They even manufacture their own panels.

“We need to stop doing dumb stuff and focus on efficiency,” LaDuke said. “My tribe is jump-starting the green economy.”

LaDuke sees this new economy as one focused on local communities, and it can be started on the individual level. Whether it’s making your own garden to save money on groceries or using your own water bottle instead of plastic ones, LaDuke gave the crowd plenty of way to make impacts.

Before taking questions from the audience, LaDuke began telling those in attendance about one of her biggest current projects, revitalizing the hemp industry.

LaDuke owns a hemp farm and showed the audience the plant’s numerous benefits, such as a biodegradable alternative to plastic bottles, while also reminding them of Pennsylvania’s past as a hemp producing titan.

Reflecting on her age and her new goal of growing a hemp economy, LaDuke finished with a joke on her age and her ambitions.

“That’s what I’m going to do for my 60th birthday — build a new economy.”

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About the Author

Matt Paolizzi

Since graduating from Penn State in 2021, Matt is (hopefully) manning a successful job and (hopefully) living a happy life by now. In a past life, he was a writer for Onward State and remains a proud alumnus of the best student publication in the country. Check out Podward State too, Onward State's official podcast, that he co-founded alongside Matt Ogden and Mitch Stewart in 2019. It's his baby, give it a wave and make sure it's doing okay. Thanks to da king Sam Brungo and everyone who follows, it most definitely is.

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