Indianz.Com > News > ‘I failed Molly Campbell’: Winona LaDuke says racism to blame for $750K verdict as board chair calls victim ‘white girl’
Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke. Photo by Keri Pickett, courtesy Honor The Earth
‘I failed Molly Campbell’
Disgraced environmental figure Winona LaDuke says racism to blame for $750K verdict as board chair calls sexual harassment victim a ‘white girl’
Thursday, April 6, 2023

Note: This story contains a discussion of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct.

Disgraced environmental figure Winona LaDuke and her inner circle are striking a defiant tone as the organization she has led for 30 years seeks to recover from a $750,000 verdict in a sexual harassment and retaliation case.

In a series of public statements on Wednesday, Honor The Earth confirmed that LaDuke, a citizen of the White Earth Nation, stepped down as executive director of the organization she co-founded in 1993. The decision came after a jury in Minnesota last week delivered the stunning verdict in favor of a former employee who was sidelined for speaking out about sexual harassment.

But even as LaDuke insisted that she alone is to blame for the organization’s treatment of Margaret “Molly” Campbell, she once again appeared to diminish the severity of her actions. She suggested that racism was to blame for Honor The Earth losing the case in a court in Becker County.

“In Becker County, where Native people make up only 7% of the population, 38% of the people in jail are Native,” LaDuke said in a social media post on Wednesday morning. “The court system is a punitive, white, carceral system that targets Native Peoples.”

“In such a forum, it was unsurprising that the result would be a staggering and disproportionate fine against Honor the Earth,” said LaDuke, who nonetheless has based her organization in the county for much of its decades-long history.

The racism claim was repeated in a press release shared on Tuesday afternoon by organization co-founders Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. In it, the musicians better known as The Indigo Girls showered praise on LaDuke, pointing to “her tireless work, her wisdom, her brilliance and her humanity.”

“Working under her mentorship these past 30 years has been the privilege of a lifetime, and we will continue to learn from Winona as she does her life’s work,” Ray and Saliers said in characterizing LaDuke as a leader to them.

The glowing release had not been posted on the website of Honor The Earth as of late Wednesday evening. Instead, featured a statement from Krystal Two Bulls, who confirmed that she was functioning as the organization’s executive director following LaDuke’s departure.

In the statement, Two Bulls, who came on board as “co-executive director” only in January, acknowledged a general need for organizations like Honor The Earth to address sexual harassment. But in the more favorable release, she too offered a positive assessment of her predecessor despite all the missteps that led to the negative verdict.

“I am humbled to continue the bright legacy of Winona LaDuke who made countless personal and professional self-sacrifices throughout her life in service to Honor the Earth and all the communities it interacts with,” said Two Bulls, who is Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne.

Even Paul DeMain, a longtime and experienced journalist who serves as chair of the organization’s board of directors, said that LaDuke could have stayed put even after she took responsibility for the sexual harassment and retaliation that occurred in Honor The Earth’s workplace. He said her resignation was accepted “regrettably” by his colleagues — following lengthy discussions on Tuesday.

But in an internet message seen by Indianz.Com, DeMain seemed to indicate all was not well at Honor The Earth. He told a Native woman who spoke out about the case on social media that the organization had strong grounds to pursue an appeal of the $750,000 verdict — potentially resulting in Campbell losing a lawsuit that has generated widespread news coverage.

However, he said the board voted not to appeal the decision as doing so might put the Honor The Earth and some 50 employees “out of business” even if the organization were to emerge victorious in further litigation.

In subsequent correspondence with Indianz.Com, DeMain confirmed the contents of the internet message but insisted that Honor The Earth isn’t in any danger of shutting down. “I am confident that with the new leadership and a reorganization that will not be the case,” the Oneida and Ojibwe journalist said via email.

DeMain also confirmed that — like LaDuke — the issue of race factors prominently into his framing of the sexual harassment and retaliation that occurred at Honor The Earth. In the message to the Native woman, he described Campbell as a “young white girl.”

In the message, DeMain wrote: “the 7 female board of directors and I as Chair, did not intentionally do anything to damage this young white girl.”

DeMain told Indianz.Com that his race, gender and age based description of Campbell, who started working at Honor The Earth in 2009, is accurate.

“I did refer to Molly Campbell as a young white girl, which she is, or was back 10 years ago,” DeMain said.

Still, amid his public praise for LaDuke, DeMain wasn’t ready to commit to an organizational future with his longtime friend. He told Indianz.Com that he wasn’t sure if he will continue to work with her at an organization they founded in 2017 called Akiing. Frank Bibeau, an attorney who represented Honor The Earth in the sexual harassment case, is also part of the non-profit.

Demain told Indianz.Com that Akiing’s relationship with LaDuke remains “undefined” — a description that apparently extends to its fiscal standing. Online, the organization bills itself as a “formal 501(c)3 partner of Honor the Earth” or HTE.

“We have several board of directors meeting coming up where the relationship with both HTE and each other, and how Winona related to those other entities still needs to be worked out,” DeMain told Indianz.Com.

As a formal partner, Akiing has received funding from Honor The Earth, DeMain confirmed, though he didn’t have figures in front of him on Wednesday evening. He said the money has gone to efforts like 8th Fire — a solar project that LaDuke founded and which employs at least one member of LaDuke’s family.

“I can tell you that there has been revenue raised by Honor The Earth over the years that has flowed to Akiing 8th Fire and other sub-organizations in addition to its own programs since 2017,” DeMain told Indianz.Com.

The finances that flow in and out of Honor The Earth remain a major issue going forward, and DeMain’s ongoing entanglements indicate LaDuke cannot be easily separated from the millions of dollars that have been brought in over the years by a figure who has commanded a national presence ever since she ran for vice president on the Green Party ticket more than 20 years ago.

The press release, for example, did not say LaDuke has quit or left Honor The Earth — only that she is “stepping back from national work.” It further stated that she will “continue to support the transition” of the organization now that Two Bulls is the sole executive director.

In her own public social media post on Tuesday morning — which opened with “I have some words to say” — LaDuke finally apologized for the way she handled the sexual harassment experienced by her former employee. Previously, she had avoided addressing her role in the scandal in a statement issued a day after the verdict last Thursday.

“I failed Molly Campbell,” LaDuke said in the public post.

But LaDuke, who boasts of educational experience at prestigious institutions like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said she lacked a full understanding of her responsibilities at an organization she had been running for 21 years at the time of the harassment experienced by Campbell. She also said Honor The Earth was busy trying to fight an oil pipeline that was eventually canceled by a Canadian-based developer.

“This is an explanation for context, but it is no excuse and is not a stand-in for accountability,” LaDuke wrote of the time frame in which Campbell was mistreated.

She added: “I firmly believe that everyone deserves a workplace free of sexual harassment, and I deeply regret not responding to Ms. Campbell’s claims with the appropriate level of care and urgency as I should have. I was overwhelmed.”

Only after Campbell came forward did Honor The Earth develop a “zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy that applies to both contract and regular employees,” LaDuke said.

Nowhere in her 1,100-word post did LaDuke apologize for the retaliation to which Campbell was subjected after speaking up about sexual harassment from Michael Dahl, another former contract employee at Honor The Earth who is also a citizen of the White Earth Nation. Court documents show that LaDuke contacted at least one major environmental organization and described Campbell’s employment status and credibility in less than favorable terms.

As a result, Campbell’s legal team said she lost out on an employment opportunity at the organization, identified in court filings as, whose leadership has frequently collaborated with and praised LaDuke on environmental matters, especially when it came to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a cause that significantly boosted Honor The Earth’s revenue stream, according to non-profit tax documents that show a large influx in funds during the NoDAPL movement.

Winona LaDuke Inbox
A sampling of some of the emails from Winona LaDuke’s inbox that were produced as part of a lawsuit against Honor The Earth. Full email addresses redacted by Indianz.Com.

LaDuke also did not apologize for bringing Dahl into Honor The Earth’s inner circle. Even after she was informed by Campbell and other Native women advocates about serious sexual abuse incidents involving her former contract employee, she continued to praise him publicly and kept him in the loop about a minor who had accused him of sexual assault, documents filed in court show.

Documents further show that LaDuke and the board of directors for Honor The Earth were told about a “known predator” in the organization’s circle — some four years after the Dahl scandal in 2015. Yet a member of the board suggested that the individual shouldn’t be dismissed even as she wrote in an email that he “hurt a lot of people” — including minors.

And a year after that, a different board member stepped down after being accused of sexual misconduct by a young Native person and by people in the music industry, starting in early 2020. At the time, LaDuke was confident in telling Indianz.Com: “I know he is not a rapist.”

The sexual harassment and retaliation case is Margaret Campbell v. Honor The Earth, No. 03-CV-19-266. Documents can be accessed on Minnesota Court Records Online by going to the “Case Search” tab and entering “03-CV-19-266” under the “Case Number” option on the website.

The case was handled by Judge Gretchen D. Thilmony, who was first appointed to the bench by a Democratic governor in 2016 and previously served on the Anishinabe Sexual Assault Response Team and the Public Safety Committee for the White Earth Nation and was a Public Safety in Indian Country partner with the Department of Justice. Incidentally, she is the first woman to serve as a judge in Becker County, located in an area described by LaDuke and Honor The Earth as the “Deep North.” The term is a comparison to the “Deep South” — meaning a place of deep-seated, institutionalized racism.

Native-led support from StrongHearts Native Helpline
StrongHearts Native Helpline, which is available for free nationwide, is a culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential service dedicated to serving Native American and Alaska Native survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence and concerned relatives and friends. Knowledgeable advocates provide peer support, crisis intervention, personalized safety planning and referrals to Native-centered support services. Call or text 1-844-7NATIVE or visit for chat advocacy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Related Stories
‘Deliberate disregard’: Honor The Earth liable in sexual harassment case (April 4, 2023)
Indian Country Today: Opponents of Line 3 look to United Nations for support (September 8, 2021)