Native Defenders of the Environment

Volume 28, No. 4 - Summer 2017
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7th Generation (2011)
128 pages

Review by Laura Paskus

In this slim book, author Vincent Schilling offers up short biographies of 11 Native and First Nations men and women who work to preserve the landscapes, waters, and wildlife of their communities. The book includes snapshots of familiar elders, people like Tom Goldtooth (Diné/Dakota), executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Winona LaDuke (White Earth Band of Ojibwe). Born in 1959, LaDuke has spent decades advocating for Native communities and the protection of the environment. Even though she’s familiar to people across the country, in part because she was the Green Party candidate for vice president in 1996 and 2000, Schilling’s chapter on LaDuke provides insight into her background and political influences, as well as her work across the nation and on the White Earth reservation. 

Schilling also includes younger activists, including Melina Laboucan-Massimo (Lubicon Lake Band of Cree) and Klee Benally (Diné). Born in Peace River, Alberta, Laboucan-Massimo attended high school and college in Edmonton, and traveled extensively in places like Brazil, Mexico, and Australia, meeting other Indigenous people and learning about sustainable development. While earning her master’s degree at York University in Toronto, she researched tar sands development. The more she learned, the more shocking she found the development and its impacts. And the more committed she became to environmental activism and social justice.

“People do not have to adjust to living in contaminated areas, on contaminated land, and using contaminated water just for the benefit and profit of multinational corporations and government,” she told Schilling. “We need accountability, responsible governing, and respectful understanding and communications. We need to ensure people aren’t being subjected to environmental racism.”

Fossil fuel development is something that Klee Benally knows all too well. He was born at Big Mountain on Black Mesa, one year after Congress voted to forcibly remove 12,000 Diné people from their homes and sacred sites to make way for a coal mine. Benally is a traditional Diné dancer, as well as the lead vocalist and guitarist for the punk group, Blackfire. And, as Schilling writes, Benally uses media to empower Native communities to fight back against environmental injustices.

Benally’s words are important for all of us, no matter where we live: “The greater and more dominant culture needs to come to terms with environmental racism and the suffering it causes. Uranium mines, coal-fired power plants, nuclear waste facilities, nuclear power plants, and border walls—the suffering that’s caused by those things will never be addressed until the dominant society understands that suffering and feels that suffering.”

Laura Paskus is former editor of Tribal College Journal, author of At the Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate, and now works for New Mexico Political Report.

2017 AIHEC Student Poetry Slam


On the opening evening of the 2017 AIHEC Student Conference in Rapid City, students from an array of TCUs entertained conference goers with the spoken word at the annual poetry slam. View the video

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