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Synthesis/Regeneration 22   (Spring 2000)

Leonard Peltier's Prison Writings: My Life is My Sundance (review) [#below]

Winona LaDuke's All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life

reviewed by Byron Clemens, Gateway Greens

Winona LaDuke's All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, 1999. 200 pages, 22 illustrations and photographs, paper. South End Press, $16.

Winona LaDuke knows how to tell a story and tell it well. LaDuke's latest non-fiction work, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life adds a forceful and inspirational voice to Native peoples' resistance to environmental devastation. The book comprises 10 chapters detailing in environmental, spiritual and human terms the struggles of indigenous peoples from Awkwesasne to Hawai'i.

LaDuke's introduction notes that the last 150 years have witnessed the largest extinction of species since the Ice Age as well as the loss of more than 2,000 nations of native peoples in the western hemisphere. She then gives evidence that cultural diversity helps to ensure biodiversity. Where indigenous people maintain their traditions one can often find an enclave of biodiversity. This is one of the unifying themes of the book. LaDuke ends the chapter with the description of a ceremony and the resolve of native peoples to continue their commitment to the land and the people of the land.

Chapter One in All Our Relations presents a brief history of the Mohawk legacy in the Great Lakes region and contrasts it with the industrial pollution of Akwesasne that has led to PCB contamination of mothers' milk. The book then details the work of Katsi Cook and others analyzing the local food chain and ultimately forcing General Motors to clean up its contamination of the Great Lakes region. LaDuke notes that GM is listed by the Multinational Monitor as one of the ten worst corporations in the world. GM is also potentially responsible for more than 200 superfund sites and releases three times as much pollution into the environment as Ford Motor Company (its major competitor). Cook plans to build on the Mothers' Milk Project and open a new midwifery center. She says, "We must follow the Great Law of Peace and Good Mind."

The following chapter chronicles the struggles of the Billie and other Seminole families in Florida to remain independent. They are adamant about not moving to a reservation. This group of activists is also struggling to preserve the habitat of the Florida panther.

Chapter Three depicts the struggles of Nitassisnan in northern Canada to resist the Canadian, US and NATO air forces who have turned traditional hunting areas into a massive airfield and bombing range. The Nitassisnan are finding some relief through the court system.

The following seven chapters chronicle the lives of Native activists as one nation after another struggles to preserve their way of life and the land for the continuing generations. Whether resisting "temporary" above ground storage at Yucca mountain or further degradation of salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, there is a common traditional point of view: what we do to the land now should be projected forward seven generations. Whatever befalls the earth also befalls the people of the earth.

All Our Relations is a well written and carefully documented analysis of the resistance of Native peoples to environmental degradation. LaDuke's profiles of local activists and their individual struggles within the context of Native spirituality give a message of hope. Winona LaDuke has paid her dues as a journalist and as an activist and it shows.

Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabeg activist who lives on the White Earth Reservation. She is the election-year Green Party vice-presidential running mate of Ralph Nader (this year as in 1996).

Leonard Peltier's (US Prisoner #89637-132)
Prison Writings: My Life is My Sundance

reviewed by Byron Clemens, Gateway Greens

Leonard Peltier's (US Prisoner #89637-132) Prison Writings: My Life is My Sundance (edited by Harvey Arden), 1999. 221 pages, 20 photographs, St. Martin's Press, $23.95.

Leonard Peltier is an American Indian activist for whom overwhelming evidence and testimony shows was unjustly convicted for the murder of two FBI agents in the infamous "Incident at Oglala" in the 1970's. Leonard Peltier has become a symbol for Native Americans for what is wrong with the United States Government; he is the twenty-first century equivalent of Crazy Horse. Recognized world figures from the Dalai Lama to Desmond Tutu have called for Peltier's release.

Written from his prison cell in Leavenworth, Kansas, Peltier's memoir details his childhood, his involvement with the American Indian Movement and the human toll of 24 years of confinement and hard time for a crime he clearly did not commit. Prison Memoirs places Peltier's struggle for justice in the context of the history of the US government's relationship with American Indian peoples.

In the final chapter Peltier describes the brief spiritual liberation he and 17 other "bro's" experience in a sweat lodge ceremony before returning to the harsh reality of Leavenworth. It is his spirituality that gives him strength. Peltier's placement of his own sacrifices within the context of the Sundance (a ceremony of sacrifice and renewal) makes this book a testimony to spirituality, humility and hope in the face of blind injustice.This eloquent book is a must read for anyone concerned with the struggle for Native rights. Peltier's Prison Writings will have its place in American history.

Byron Clemens is a St. Louis based educator, human rights activist and writer who also volunteers at the First Aid tent at the Sundance at Big Mountain, Arizona.

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