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Winona LaDuke: The world from horseback

I just finished riding a good portion of Minnesota’s Enbridge Alberta Clipper Pipeline on my horse. We rode, six riders most days, seven horses, one for the spirits, because we think our land and water are worth protecting. And we rode because, enjoying the nuance of land from horseback, the delicate colors of the fall, watching birds take flight is something we don’t do these days. We’re busy, electronically hooked up, and loud … loud as combustion engines, loud as our music, and yelling. I know, I am one of us.

We rode from the Enbridge Superior Refinery to a lakeshore on the Red Lake reservation where Anishinaabe people have encamped for months over a disputed pipeline right of way. We rode, we prayed, and we enjoyed a pace in life that most of us have forgotten. We had a lot of people stop and say “hi,” thank us, give us money and feed us. We were very grateful. I met the mayor of Brookston even. In fact, we liked it so much, that I think I’m going to ride the pipeline more often, because I’d like to see the land, and I’d like to make sure the oil stays in the pipeline. Know your pipeline, I say, especially if you’ve got one around. It might leak, as a farmer found out in North Dakota this past week, as 800,000 gallons hemorrhaged out of a pipeline. The company is far away, but we are here.

I rankle at futuristic movies. Movies replete with toxic lands, guns, sores and extraordinary bravery of men in space suits. I hate that future. I’d rather have a more peaceful future, one where water is not toxic, our food and health are good. I’d rather not see the north and North Dakota written off as a national sacrifice area to fossil fuels. I find joy in this land.

Our prophecies as Anishinaabe people tell of a choice between two paths, one well worn and scorched and another green.

So, this year, my pride is seeing my friend Gete Okosomin travel far. Gete Okosomin is a squash. This is a squash that came from an archaeological dig near Green Bay, Wis. Excavated from the ground, there was a clay ball, the size of a tennis ball. Shaken, the sounds emerged, and broken, squash seeds were revealed. The squash seeds were dated 800 years old. That squash, I call, “ gete okosomin,” or really cool old squash, or a friend calls the time traveler squash, is higher in nutritional value than anything which find on our shelves. Think about this: A related squash has 13 percent of the dietary reference values (DRV) for fiber, 64 percent of the DRV for vitamin A, and half the calories and double the calcium and magnesium of the market equivalent.

Then there is the corn. We’ve been working to grow out these old corn varieties, like Bear Island Flint, which, you guessed it, originally was grown by our ancestors on an island in the middle of Leech Lake reservation. That multicolored flint corn is high in carbohydrates and protein. One serving of hominy yields 47 percent of the DRV for fiber and 33 percent of the B vitamin Thiamine and has half the calories of market corn. Old can be better than hybrid, genetically engineered or brought to you by petroleum.

I like growing, and I like buying food from the Amish community, from organic potato farmers like Hugh Duffner, from Darrel Smith, who grows food with the manure of his Shetland pony as his primary additive. I like local food, I like the slowness of conversations that happen on the edge of a garden, the discussions about how the peppers are going, and the delight in my grandchildren when they find a tomato which looks like a brain.

I like agriculture that is not brought to me by fossil fuels. Consider this: “For most of the last 10,000 years, agriculture has had balanced energy and nutrient cycles. Taking advantage of cultural practices such as crop rotations, green manures and draft animals allowed for humanity to live within the regenerative capacity of Mother Earth. Now, think what has happened… Currently about 10 to 15 calories of fossil fuel energy are used to create 1 calorie of food. And, although agriculture uses about 17 percent of the U.S. annual energy budget it is the single largest consumer of petroleum products when compared to any other industry.” That’s not sustainable.

So let’s say I like the world from horseback, I like the world from canoe, and I like the world from foot and I like this world the Creator gave us. In our prophecies this green path is a good one, and I’m going to occasionally take it by horseback.

WINONA LADUKE is an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist and writer. She is executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project.