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LaDuke, Struthers inducted into Northwest Minnesota Women's Hall of Fame

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LaDuke, Struthers inducted into Northwest Minnesota Women's Hall of Fame
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Women's History Month kicked off Saturday with the induction of two Ponsford women into the Northwest Minnesota Women's Hall of Fame at Bemidji State University's Beaux Arts Ballroom.

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The theme of the Women's History Month opening ceremony, "Through a Woman's Eyes: Women's Vision of the Environment," is reflected in the choices of Winona LaDuke and the late Roxanne Struthers, said Louise Jackson, director of women's studies at BSU.

"We can't believe that both of these women are from White Earth," Jackson said. "They are two strong, powerful women. We are honored to induct them into the Hall of Fame and celebrate their induction."

LaDuke, an American Indian land rights activist, environmentalist, economist, politician and author, was born in 1959 in Los Angeles. She is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg.

She attended Harvard University and at the age of 18 spoke to the United Nations about American Indian concerns. After graduation, she moved to the White Earth Reservation and became principal of the reservation high school. She quickly became involved in a lawsuit to recover lands promised to the Anishinaabeg people by an 1867 federal treaty. After four years of litigation, the case was dismissed, prompting LaDuke to found the White Earth Land Recovery Project, whose mission focuses on land recovery, preservation and restoration of traditional practices and the strengthening of spiritual and cultural heritage.

In 1985, she established the Indigenous Women's Network, which is devoted to increasing the visibility of American Indian women and empowering them to participate in political, social and cultural processes.

LaDuke is program director of the Honor the Earth Fund, a national advocacy group that seeks to educate and create public support and funding for native environmental groups.

In 1994, she was nominated by Time magazine as one of the country's 50 most promising leaders younger than 40. Ms. Magazine named her Woman of the Year in 1998.

LaDuke has written extensively on American Indian and environmental issues and has earned national acclaim for her articles and her four nonfiction books. She won the Minnesota Book Award in 2006 for "Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming." She has also received praise for her lectures on indigenous environmentalism, indigenous rights, civic engagement and social responsibility, and social action.

She was a vice presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, joining Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket. She is a mother of three.

"Winona's roots reach deep into the land she defends," said Carla Norris-Raynbird of the BSU Sociology Department, who played a portion of "Thunderbird Women," a film about LaDuke. "She is a warrior woman for her people. She is a warrior woman for all people. She is a woman warrior for the Earth.

"She is of great value to our country, to our state and to our region," Norris-Raynbird said. "It is with great gratitude and great admiration that we induct Winona LaDuke - Thunderbird Woman - to the Northwest Minnesota Women's Hall of Fame."

"It is a very great honor to be recognized in your own homeland," Waseyabin LaDuke, Winona LaDuke's daughter, read from a letter of gratitude written by her mother, who is out of the country at a conference.

"This honor being bestowed on her is something for her family ... and for the future," said Waseyabin LaDuke , who spoke of her mother's life and work. She noted that Struthers was a good friend of her mother.

Struthers honored

Struthers was an internationally recognized researcher, educator, healer and speaker for American Indian health.

She was born and raised on the White Earth Reservation and was the first member of her family to graduate from college. She received a bachelor's degree from Bemidji State University and a master's with a focus on rural health from the University of North Dakota. She earned a doctorate in nursing at the University of Minnesota, where she was a senior member of the nursing graduate faculty at the time of her death in December 2005 at the age of 53.

She was one of only 14 American Indians to hold a doctorate in nursing at that time and was an active advocate for increasing opportunities for other American Indian women.

Struthers practiced as a nurse primarily in the White Earth Reservation area. She conducted extensive research on the health of American Indians and Alaska natives, focusing on tobacco use, diabetes, holistic care for indigenous women and traditional healing and healers.

With permission from tribal elders, Struthers was one of the first to research and put into writing some of the concepts of traditional American Indian medicine and healing. Her articles frequently appeared in several peer-reviewed publications and she presented at more than 70 international, national and state conferences on her research findings and broad experience in health care and American Indian health.

After moving to the Twin Cities area, she continued to be an advocate for the White Earth people. She acted often as a spokeswoman for grant programs and served on boards and committees that benefited the tribes and people of northwestern Minnesota. She and her husband, James Struthers, had two sons and two daughters.

Her daughter Julie Marson said that on the morning before the induction, she saw an eagle fly above. "She is here with us today," Marson said.

"She is an example of empowering women," she said. "She went out and did so many things we can only dream of doing. Her work continues and we are very proud of that. It's a true honor to have her up on the wall with all these wonderful people."

Guests were greeted by women portraying female environmentalists in history: Melanie Whalen portrayed Mary Gibbs of Itasca State Park, Donghui Zhang portrayed Niu Yuqui of China and Hannah Kufuna portrayed Nobel Peace Prize winner Maathi Wangari of Africa.

Luncheon opening remarks were made by Lisa Erwin, vice president of student development and enrollment at BSU; Florence Hedeen, chairwoman of the Northwest Minnesota Women's Fund advisory committee; and Jackson.

Environmental songs were sung by Shannon Murray, Shylan Rose, Maggie Carlson, Anna Carlson, Sue Lee and Katy Houg. The Little Red Tail Drum group provided opening and closing songs.

The ceremony closed with a video featuring the song "Heroes," honoring women in history.

LaDuke and Struthers are the 10th group of women inducted into the Hall of Fame. An original oil portrait of each of the inductees was unveiled. They will hang in the A.C. Clark Library at BSU.

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