Winona LaDuke, a prominent Native American environmentalist and activist who twice ran for vice president on a Green Party ticket headed by Ralph Nader, will be the keynote speaker at Southern Oregon University’s June 17 commencement ceremony.
LaDuke, 57, was raised largely in Ashland and her mother — noted Oregon painter Betty LaDuke — was a member of SOU’s art faculty for 32 years.
Winona LaDuke currently lives on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota and is the executive director of Honor the Earth (HtE), a nonprofit that supports indigenous environmental justice. LaDuke co-founded the organization in 1993 with the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls.
“Winona LaDuke is an inspiring role model for our graduates, our students and everyone who will be attending commencement,” SOU President Linda Schott said. “She has spent her distinguished career fighting for Native Americans, for women and for those who believe that our future is inextricably bound to the health of our environment.
“It will be an honor to welcome her back to Ashland, where the foundation for her life’s work was built — much like those who will be walking in our commencement ceremony.”
LaDuke was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007, in recognition of her leadership and commitment to her community. She was named one of Time Magazine’s 50 most promising leaders under the age of 40 in 1994; received the Thomas Merton Award in 1996 for her devotion to justice; and in 1998 she shared the Ms. Magazine Women of the Year award with the Indigo Girls.
She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and her master’s degree in community economic development from Antioch University. She became a high school principal on the White Earth reservation, where she became active in Native American and women’s issues. She helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network in 1985, and four years later established the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which has bought back more than 1,200 acres of former reservation land from non-Natives and held it in a conservation trust for the Anishinaabe Tribe.
Her Honor the Earth organization played an active role in the year-long Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which ended in February when National Guard troops cleared protesters from the site.
SOU has attracted noteworthy speakers to its summer commencement ceremony in recent years, and most have had close connections to the university.
Last year’s commencement speaker was Harry “Doc” Kloor, an SOU alumnus who is the first and only person to earn two doctorate degrees simultaneously. Kloor — a writer, scientist and national technology policy advisor — earned doctorates in physics and chemistry from Purdue University.
In 2015, SOU’s commencement address was given by then-University of Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich, who is also an SOU alumnus. He was replaced as the Ducks’ coach after his team had a 4-8 season last fall.
This year’s commencement ceremony — SOU’s 91st — will begin at 9 a.m. at Raider Stadium.