Over the years, Ms. LaDuke has picked up quite a few causes worth fighting for, one of which being livelihood. Many Native Americans are farmers, who depend on harvested crops and healthy livestock for income. But native farmers who grow organic crops and rely on manual labor for harvesting cannot compete with bustling farms that mass produce their crops and harvest using combines.
The most lucrative crop that the Anishinaabeg grow is wild rice. The Native Americans plant and grow several varieties of wild rice and collect the crop during Manoominike-Giikis, the Wild Rice Moon. Unlike the “wild rice” grown in diked paddies in the deserts of Nortern California, where three quarters of all rice termed wild rice is grown, the Anishinaabeg grow wild rice that are not of one genetic strand of rice, do not rely on chemicals or fertilizers, and do not use water borrowed from other ecosystems. The only place in the world where true wild rice is grown is in the lakes of Minnesota. So what LaDuke tries to do is ensure that these farmers of wild rice get a fair trade for their crops and are not sold out to the farmers who are overrunning the markets with industrialized wild rice. LaDuke knows that maintaining biodiversity is important as many crops fields fail due to disease and raising traditional crops is essential as many of today’s industrialized crops lack the basic nutrition that can be found in native harvests.
Perpetuating fair trade isn’t the issue LaDuke is working towards, she’s also interested in having a say about genetic engineering. Crops that are genetically engineered become super-filled with all the vitamins and nutrients imaginable. Scientists have already engineered a strand of “golden rice” injected with a dose of beta-carotene, which the human body converts into Vitamin A. So if wild rice becomes a genetically engineered crop, the Anishinaabeg farmers lose their income. Not only that, but if the engineered rice is patented and should some of its seeds be blown to other rice beds, farmers face many problems. The only way from keeping the genetically engineered rice from growing and promulgating is to clear the paddy fields entirely, an incredible economic loss for those that depend on the crop for income. Locally and globally, LaDuke works to protect the interests of indigenous peoples and the environment.