Social Issues

Winona LaDuke resigns as Honor The Earth leader after sexual harassment case

Activist Winona LaDuke speaks at a press conference.
Activist Winona LaDuke said she failed former employee Margaret (Molly) Campbell by not responding to her reports of sexual harassment by a coworker.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

Updated: 2:03 p.m.

Winona LaDuke, executive director of the Native American-led environmental group Honor the Earth, has resigned her national leadership position.

The news comes less than a week after the group lost a sexual harassment case to a former employee.

In an announcement on Facebook Wednesday, LaDuke wrote she failed former employee Margaret (Molly) Campbell by not responding to her reports of sexual harassment by a coworker.

“I did not rapidly and adequately act on the complex personnel and sexual harassment issues our organization faced internally,” she wrote about Honor The Earth, known for opposing the Line 3 pipeline.

LaDuke said Honor the Earth had no sexual harassment policies in place in 2014 and 2015, when Campbell complained a co-worker sexually harassed her and used their status as a spiritual leader to commit sexual violence against Native American boys and men.

“I take personal responsibility for the mistakes made … I was the executive director, and it was my job to create a good foundation to heal and move forward,” LaDuke’s post read.

Campbell said Honor The Earth's leaders failed to take her concerns seriously and in 2019 filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. It found no probable cause that Honor the Earth was guilty of sexual discrimination or took punitive action against Campbell.

She appealed and last week, a Becker County jury awarded her $750,000 in damages for sexual harassment and retaliation. In a statement, LaDuke said Honor the Earth remains committed to resisting all forms of sexual harassment, violence and assault.

Krystal Two Bulls, who was hired as co-executive director of Honor the Earth in December, will now be the sole director. LaDuke said prior to the trial she had been working on a transition plan.

LaDuke cofounded Honor the Earth 30 years ago with musicians Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. She was also a two time Green Party vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader.

“I am sorry for disappointing my organization, Native women and our friends, as this eight-year-old case comes to a conclusion. It was certainly not my intention to hurt Ms. Campbell or my friends and colleagues, but I am sorry that was the outcome,” LaDuke said. “I hope there will be peace among us all moving forward.”

A statement from Honor the Earth said the organization’s board accepted LaDuke’s resignation after “lengthy, emotional discussions.”

The organization had already planned to transition to one executive director, but that plan was accelerated after the Beck County jury’s decision, which Honor the Earth said included no Indigenous members.

“The court system is a punitive, white, carceral system that targets Native Peoples,” LaDuke said in her post. “In such a forum, it was unsurprising that the result would be a staggering and disproportionate fine against Honor the Earth.”

Board Chair Paul DeMain thanked LaDuke for her work in a statement.

“She is clear she wants to pick her battles well, so it is with both great heaviness and optimism  that we move forward,” DeMain said.

The members of the Indigo Girls said in a statement that working under LaDuke’s mentorship for the last three decades has “been the privilege of a lifetime.”

Two Bulls said in a statement that she’s humbled to continue LaDuke’s legacy, and asked the public to stand with Honor the Earth: “We ask that you continue to walk with us as we face many battles during a critical period of increasing climate crisis across the planet.”

In a separate statement on the group’s website, Two Bulls said they’ve learned lessons from the sexual harassment allegations and is committed to doing the “listening, healing and the intentional work ahead.”

Honor the Earth is a grantee-partner of NDN Collective, which has distributed tens of millions of dollars to indigenous organizations around the country.

In a statement after the verdict against Honor the Earth, NDN Collective said Honor the Earth didn’t notify them of pending litigation as required by the grants’ terms.

NDN Collective said their partnership with Honor the Earth ends on April 14, and that “any future partnership will hinge on the integrity and demonstration of community harmony and safety protocols” after the group transitions to new leadership.

LaDuke wasn't available for an interview, but told MPR News through text that she plans to take a little time off and leave Honor the Earth to continue growing with good and principled leadership.

“I am going to the maple sugarbush and then preparing to put in my plants for spring,” LaDuke said. “The hemp economy needs to be reborn in Minnesota, now's the time. I'll do that.”

LaDuke said she had been planning to transition out of the organization's leadership for about a year, and that she'd been surprised by the jury's verdict: “I'm saddened and just looking forward to spring.”