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LaDuke steps down from land recovery

Winona LaDuke is stepping down as executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project. SUBMITTED PHOTO

There is a new leader at the helm of the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

WELRP founder Winona LaDuke stepped down as executive director earlier this week in a closed board meeting that subsequently saw longtime WELRP member Bob Shimek appointed to the position.

In a statement released by LaDuke, she was quoted as saying she wanted to focus her work on her efforts in renewable energy and her family.

“I will be working primarily on environmental energy issues in the region, including the proposed expansion of the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline and the proposed Sandpiper line of fracked oil from North Dakota,” she said.

LaDuke says she will continue her work “in tandem” with the White Earth Land Recovery Project and hopes to develop renewable energy partnerships.

In the meantime, the shift of power to Shimek was retroactive two weeks ago.

“I’ve served in a number of leadership capacities over the years, but most of the time there were at least one or two levels beyond me, so this is kind of a new thing for the buck to stop here,” he said, adding that despite the “big load” he is taking on, he believes he is a good choice, as he is passionate and knowledgeable in the ways and the mission of the WELRP. He was a community organizer for the group when it began in 1991.

“So I was here when WELRP was a newborn infant, and I helped to give it eyes and ears and feet and hands and life,” said Shimek, “and we did a lot of good work for a lot of years.”

Some of that work includes reclaiming 1,400 acres of land from individual “fee” (or “taxable”) land owners to WELRP and establishing Native Harvest — a program that uses that land to grow wild rice and tap trees for maple syrup to be sold all over the world.

Moving forward, Shimek says he would love to see more programs formed within WELRP that would incorporate the community instead of just land recovery personnel handling the Native Harvest land.

“I want to give this organization back to the people,” he said, “to go into the community and ask for their assistance in maple syrup and corn production … to give people economic and cultural learning opportunities.”

Shimek is known for his work in such areas as pesticide drift, dangerous pesticide usage in regional potato farms and wolf preservation, and he was the farm to school coordinator, which formed a partnership between local growers and reservation schools.

He was also instrumental in starting the wind monitoring project that lead to the installation of several wind turbines on White Earth Reservation.

Shimek is a member of the advisory committee that oversees the wild rice and sulfate research mandated by the state legislature a few years ago.

“It will finally mandate mining companies and other releases of sulfate into wild rice bearing waters to clean up their act,” he said.

Shimek says his efforts and beliefs are in line with the mission of WELRP, which is “to facilitate the recovery of the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation, while preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, community development and strengthening the cultural and spiritual heritage.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said after reading it. “I like that.”

Part of his duties as executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project will also be to oversee the entities that fall under the organization’s umbrella, such as Niijii Radio and Ojibwe Wind.

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

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