An original essay: The Sitting Bull Plan

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There are many prophecies of this time in the teachings of Indigenous peoples - whether the spider web in the sky, or the set of disasters of biblical proportions that surround us, from 162 degrees of heat in Tehran, to the scourge of locust in Africa, and the plague of coronavirus. It’s time to change.

In the time of the Seventh Fire, the Anishinaabe were told that we will have a choice between two paths, one well worn, but scorched. A second is not well worn, but green. We are instructed to make a choice. That’s our story, our prophecy. That is now. For those of us who choose the Green Path, there is another fire - that’s called the 8th Fire. … Light the fire, I say.

“Coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could…Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it….” -Arundhati Roy

Ji Misawaabandaaming — making a positive future is our opportunity. Here are some thoughts on what I would call the Sitting Bull Plan or the Just Transition.

Protect where the wild things are: That’s northern Minnesota, and that’s our prairies. There were once 250 species of grass on the prairie and 50 million buffalo. Let’s do what we can to restore that. Biodiversity is life and cannot be replaced. Some 80% of the world’s biodiversity is in the lands and waters of Indigenous peoples, from wild rice to the sturgeon and buffalo. Now’s the time to protect those territories and restore biodiversity. After all, the coronavirus came from disturbing nature, in this case the world of the bat. Be mindful and leave the wild things alone. The Buffalo Treaty signed in 2016 seeks to protect buffalo and restore a multi-jurisdictional land base to herds. That’s visionary. Protect the water because it is life and it’s a lot better idea to keep it clean than try and clean it up. Don’t pick a fight with Mother Nature, you won’t win.


Build infrastructure that matters. Minnesota needs at least $27 billion in infrastructure investment. That’s bridges, water, sewer, dams and all. Minnesota needs more than $12.5 billion to keep up with water infrastructure — drinking water and wastewater systems. Let’s make pipes for people — climate change challenges infrastructure — get ahead of the game.

Don’t waste energy: That’s to say that Americans waste about 60% of their energy between point of origin and point of consumption. That’s dumb. Let’s get efficient and get local. Decide what we use energy on. Enbridge is the largest energy user in Minnesota; after all, it takes power to move sludge.

Don’t waste energy on dumb things, and power local.

Build renewable energy: Remember, we didn’t leave the Stone Age because we ran out of rocks. Time to move on. Change is inevitable, it’s just a question of who controls the change. Climate change means more storms and more power outages. Each megawatt of community solar installed in a community generates $1.87 million of total economic impact during construction, operation and maintenance.

The Cannonball Community Solar Farm (first in North Dakota) adds 300 kilowatts into the grid. It’s estimated the solar farm will save the community between $7,000 and $10,000 annually in energy costs. Install solar, thermal and other local heat to reduce bills by 30%.

Install utility scale battery storage to onboard renewable energy. Local is climate resilient. That’s infrastructure for the future and real security.

Solutionary Rail: Start with some electric trains. Trains are the most efficient way to move stuff in this country, along with boats and barges. That’s big infrastructure, the backbone of transportation in this country. There’s a plan called “Solutionary Rail.” That’s electric trains powered by renewable energy. Electric trains are about twice as efficient as diesel engines. 53% of Europe’s rails are electric. Run them off of direct current from the northern plains, and that’s over 90% efficient. The U.S. has 1% electric trains. I say, let’s evolve.

Change the materials economy: Quit buying plastic straws; that’s the tip of the iceberg. And cut our waste. Bayern Brewery in Missoula uses l00% recycled glass. They have a return policy and provide boxes to their patrons. What about if we just washed all those beer bottles up, instead of pretending we are recycling them. And, what if we banned single-use plastics. After all, the world has enough plastic. I heard there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean soon. Ban plastics, make it out of hemp.


Support organic agriculture: It turns out that size matters. Big agriculture can’t adapt in crisis. Think of it this way: the average American meal travels 1,400 miles from farmer to table. That’s not working, and we have just taken a pretty big hit. The New York Times reported, “…In Wisconsin and Ohio, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of fresh milk into lagoons and manure pits. An Idaho farmer has dug huge ditches to bury 1 million pounds of onions. …

“The amount of waste is staggering. The nation’s largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, estimates that farmers are dumping as many as 3.7 million gallons of milk each day. A single chicken processor is smashing 750,000 unhatched eggs every week….”

That’s tragic.

Let’s not do that again. Organic agriculture preserves bees, ecosystem and is the answer in a time of food insecurity and climate change. Northeastern University’s recent study found that soils from organic farms had 26% more potential for long-term carbon storage than soils from conventional farms. Turns out carbon belongs in the soil, not the air. And more change is coming.

Major corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta talk about climate change adapting varieties they are introducing, using billions of dollars to create “climate-smart” varieties. The average cost for climate-smart seeds per species is $136 million. In the meantime, Indigenous nations worldwide are adapting our pre-petroleum varieties to the times ahead. Combined, Indigenous farmers are producing today 70% of the world’s food. Go Old School.

Make things that are helpful: COVID-19 has taught us a lot about what we don’t make. In 2018, 95% of ibuprofen, 91% of hydrocortisone, 70% of acetaminophen was imported from China, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Not blaming China here; I’m blaming big corporations.

I think we should make some of what we need here, not just drugs, but solar panelS, and all sorts of equipment that is outsourced. Take wind turbines. Eighty percent of them are imported and travel by barge to Duluth. Might want to redo that one. I say build them in Duluth and on the Iron range. That’s Minnesota’s New Green Deal. That’s reindustrialization with intent.

Legalize cannabis: Yup the whole thing. In 2019, Colorado collected more than $302 million in taxes and fees on medical and recreational marijuana. Sales in the state totaled over $1.7 billion. Canada’s cannabis economy is rocking. It would help with the opioid crisis, and localize an economy. And let’s figure out how to make canvas out of cannabis again. That’s also how you wean yourself off plastics. Hemp has three times the tensile strength of cotton, grows four times as fast as a tree plantation, and can sequester carbon. Hempcrete is a form of cement that is made from the wood-like fiber of a hemp stalk and lime. Concrete is the most widely used man made material in the world. For every person on the planet, it is estimated that more than a cubic yard of concrete is produced per year. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world — behind China and the US. Transition housing to hempcrete, grow local. Hemp is the New Green Revolution


Treat the next generation like they are your descendants and caretakers: Fund education, daycare and youth. Make education relevant. Those kids are our retirement plan. Love them up.

Create a working health care system: America has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world and a health care system that is ill-equipped to care for its citizens and fails to protect its health care workers. Health care is one of the fastest growing industries, but is becoming more about marketing campaigns than health. We need a national health care system. And we need to live a healthy lifestyle. The answer is not more dialysis, the answer is less diabetes.

Bonus: Create a healthy democracy. Be decent people and solve problems. Cronyism is at an all-time high from what I can figure. A real democracy, where cronies don’t make regulatory decisions would be great. The long term must involve a full participation and respect for everyone, including Indigenous Peoples. As Zuni historian and Director of the Colorado Plateau Foundation Jim Enote explains, “…I suppose in some people’s minds, we are the conquered, so the willingness to pursue ill-gotten gains that benefit a few is simply a given. But if Native Americans are truly a part of the social and cultural fabric of this nation, why do we not receive the civility and respect afforded to other citizens? It’s time we realize that Native peoples are not only citizens of this great nation, we are indigenous to it, part of its original fabric. ..”

Let’s live up to our potential.

“Let us put our minds together to see what kind of future we can make for our children….” -Sitting Bull

About the author

Winona LaDuke is an author, speaker and activist. In 1996 and 2000, she was on the Green Party ticket for U.S. president alongside Ralph Nader. LaDuke writes occasionally for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Indigenous Voices

This video is part of the "Voices" portion of the "Indiginous Impacts" project. "Voices" features Native American community members as they discuss and write about personal and social effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Winona LaDuke is a member of the White Earth Nation as well as a social activist and writer. File photo.

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