Winona LaDuke’s “The 7th Fire and a Just Tradition: Indigenous People and the Next Economy”

Winona LaDuke spoke to a packed auditorium on Oct. 25 for the 24th Annual Otis Lecture. LaDuke is an environmental activist, economist and a two-time Green Party candidate for vice president. LaDuke attended Harvard University and graduated with a BA in economics, specifically focused on rural economic development. She is from the Anishinaabe community and lives on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.

The lecture was followed by a book signing for LaDuke’s newest publication, “​​To Be A Water Protector: The Rise of the Wiindigoo Slayers.”

History Professor Joe Hall introduced LaDuke and was involved with the selection committee for the Otis Lecture.

According to Professor Hall, “The Otis Lecture is a pretty extraordinary event at Bates in part because it’s an annual opportunity for us to bring in somebody who’s got some significant national, and sometimes international, prominence in issues that relate to the environment.”

Otis Lecturers come to campus for a few days prior to their speech to engage with classes and students. While Professor Hall said the lectures are important, he believes the most vital part of the visits are the smaller interactions between the speaker and students. 

“It’s really all these other small encounters that are possible. Meals where conversation can happen in a much less structured way,” Professor Hall said. “Meetings or visits to classes that allow for smaller-scale conversation makes the visit much more than, ‘Oh I heard somebody and they were really smart.’”

In the lecture, LaDuke cited an article written by author Arundhati Roy and argued that the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to transition the world into a more just future. 

“[Roy] says that in the history of the world, pandemics have always forced societies to change. Bring it to its knees,” LaDuke said. “This one is no different.”

LaDuke argues that the world is at a crossroads and that our collective futures depend on choosing the right path. She challenges listeners to consider seeing the world through an Indigenous lens of living and working.

“I think it’s possible that the solution to the problems we face today might not be created in the paradigm that created those problems,” LaDuke said. “That it is possible and important for us to broaden our views and figure out how we are going to solve things collectively and together.”

At the White Earth Reservation where LaDuke lives, community members employ creative and innovative solutions to address their problems — solutions that have been rooted in Indigenous belief systems. 

“We have these opportunities to do beautiful things and we should always take those opportunities. In my little village, which has every statistic you don’t want, we do this,” LaDuke said. She called on Bates students to do the same.

Professor Hall agrees with LaDuke’s emphasis on the importance of working collectively to address local issues. 

“The biggest takeaway, the problems that we face are tremendous,” Professor Hall said. “They are, in some respects, maybe even terrifying, especially as they relate to climate. But, it is possible to address them creatively and even with a certain amount of joy when you do so with an eye toward your own local space and local community.”