Time to Summon Our Greatest Courage by Winona LaDuke

Clamshell Alliance

By Winona LaDuke   

I remember the early morning at Seabrook, and my time in Boston. I remember the smell of the ocean and the mist on my face, and I remember faces and smells, and through that the courageous souls who helped me shape my own humanity.  I know that what we all did changed history.

Seabrook was my first anti nuclear demonstration at a nuclear power plant. I knew little about the east coast, New Hampshire seemed far away from my dorm room at Harvard,or for that matter my parents home three thousand miles away,  but I understood fundamentally that the questions being asked by the activists were the same questions we were asking in our own Indigenous territories- Who gave them the right to poison us?  And how will we stop them? 

It is thirty years after I began this work we are doing here. In l977, I was asked to do some research into uranium and coal mining impacts on Indigenous peoples, and found a harrowing set of stories- major energy corporations moving into pristine territories, miners sent into underground shafts with no ventilation, and so many deaths.  Thirty years ago, I joined with Dine , Hopi, Lakota and Pueblo activists to oppose uranium mining on the Navajo and Pueblo Lands, and later in the sacred Lakota lands of the Black Hills. I was sort of a nerdy researcher at the time.   I have always had a penchant for it, and what I was asked to do was bring the information to the people at Navajo and elsewhere as to what was happening, and then, inevitably , it seemed that I would end up telling others- the larger movement what was going on in our territories. So, that is to say, that the first time I really ever had a microphone put in my face was at Seabrook, at Rocky Flats and in the anti nuclear movement- as we all decided to put our bodies on the line, and raise our voices for those who were not being heard.

Back at Navajo and in our territories, we fought hard against major mining and energy companies, and learned to forge alliances with citizens and consumers at nuclear power plants, and proposed nuclear power plant sites around the country as a central strategy to protect our own lands.  We wanted to cut the level of consumption in this country. We  believed with our pure hearts that once a face was put on the source of uranium- the face of a Navajo or Pueblo miner, we would share ourselves, and break our isolation. And, we would be able to stop them from killing us with new nuclear power plants and expanded production. We were able to do that- let us not forget that.  The reality was that the Nixon administration proposed a thousand nuclear power plants in the US by the year 2000, and there are just over l00 now.  Related to that, we were able to join with a broader movement for justice and broaden our own horizons and deepen our humanity. We were able to close down uranium mining proposals, and later, to close down dam projects. 

The consumption of America, however has continued to grow- we are the largest energy market in the world, and this level of addiction means that the predator will always return to the prey- our sacred lands.  In the era of global climate destabilization, new proposals are returning to those uranium deposits we covered with organizing work, publicity, litigation and prayers during my early twenties  and companies want to bring the uranium back out of the ground- for nuclear power, as a possible answer to climate change. These lands are often the most sacred sites of our people, and these lands are also where our water is found, and we cannot live without water.

So it is that I find myself back where I  began much of my own consciousness, my awakening, and my recognition that it was possible to resist and it was possible to make a better future.  Through my own work here in the Indigenous movement, with Honor the Earth, I find that I sit down at breakfast with my companeras and companeros from three decades ago, and we work to impart our knowledge to the next generation who will be protecting this land. In fact, we are fighting to protect Mt. Taylor , Crownpoint and exactly the same places we fought for thirty years ago.   I look at the elders who are on this land , and have resisted for all of these decades, and commit, once again to stand by their side and  defend the land, the water and our future generations.

And, in this all, we see, once again, the allies, the kindred spirits, and those who see that it makes clear economic and ecological sense to move the largest energy market in the world to a less predatory path. That is a path which will feed our children, and insure our relatives who have wings, fins, paws and hooves, can live as well. Alice Walker said in a recent interview that this is the best time to have been born into the world- for it is a time when we are called upon to summon our greatest courage and our greatest strengths for all life forms. 

In this passage of time as I look at my grandchildren, and those yet to come, I have the strongest and most full hearted memories of those courageous times twenty five years ago. I am eternally grateful for what Seabrook , the Clamshell Alliance and the Anti- Nuclear Movement did for my humanity, and how it inspired my life. I look forward to the work and path ahead towards a way of life which is good for all our relatives.

Winona LaDuke lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota on issues of sustainable development, protection of wild rice, and nationally, with Honor the Earth on energy justice and renewable energy issues. She is the author of five books, the mother of five children, two grandchildren, fourteen horses, and a two time Green Party vice presidential candidate.  She is a patriot to this land.

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