By Benjamin Velani

West Central Initiative

The White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) was founded by Winona LaDuke in 1989, with the mission “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 our spiritual and cultural heritage.” 

LaDuke led the organization for 25 years before passing the torch to the current executive director, Margaret Rousu. Rousu said the primary role of WELRP within Callaway, Minnesota, and the greater White Earth Nation “is to protect the land and share resources in sustainable ways. One example of that is that we’ve recently been talking about collectively putting land into carbon sequestration programs and teaching no-till gardening practices.” 

According to Rousa, “a healthy environment creates a healthy person.” And healthy people are needed to create healthy communities. That’s why WELRP also practices what they call collective community economic systems that provide for the wellbeing of one another and future generations. 

“What collective community economic systems look like,” Rousu explained, “is when we join together as a community, our intergenerational, family-driven collective action can truly create a difference for the future. One of the things we believe, as Anishinaabe people, is that we have to look back and forward seven generations to make decisions for today.”  

“Part of this decision-making process is respect for the Earth,” Rousu said. “As Anishinaabe people, we have relationships with everything around us – not just people – as everything has a spirit. So, we’re in relationship with the trees, we’re in relationship with the grass, we’re in relationship with the ground. Everything has a spirit to be in relationship with.”  

WELRP works to restore and maintain relationships with heritage and Indigenous plant species native to west central Minnesota through their Indigenous Seed Library. With the help of Zachary Paige, owner of North Circle Seeds, WELRP created the Indigenous Seed Library in 2016. Through a network of gardeners, farmers, and seed banks, the library receives and loans seeds to responsible growers who are asked to return more seeds than they were loaned.  

Growers, however, need to know how to save seeds from a harvest to be able to return more than they were loaned. WELRP has hosted several seed-saving classes, “so that year after year, our seed banks get bigger, and our growers don’t need to keep purchasing seeds but will have their own to grow, fortifying their food sovereignty” Rousu said.  

“When you think about community connectedness, we’re bringing people together around not only saving seeds, but growing and tending the Earth with respect,” Rousu concluded.  

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted courtesy of Benjamin Velani, the Lead for America Climate Fellow at West Central Initiative.