Indianz.Com > News > ‘Deliberate disregard’: Honor The Earth liable in sexual harassment case
Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke poses with a red hand print on her face as part of the Treaty People Walk for Water event in Minnesota in August 2021. Photo: Peg Hunter
‘Deliberate disregard’
Winona LaDuke’s organization found liable in sexual harassment case
Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Note: This story contains accounts of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, as well as photos and screenshots of people accused of sexual misconduct.

One of Indian Country’s most prominent environmental activists has been ordered to pay $750,000 to a former employee after being found liable for sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Following a two-day trial in Minnesota, a jury last week returned the stunning verdict against Honor The Earth. The non-profit organization — which was founded by activist and former U.S. vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, a citizen of the White Earth Nation — was found responsible for one count of sexual harassment and two counts of reprisal in a lawsuit filed by Margaret “Molly” Campbell, the former employee.

“By clear and convincing evidence, did the Defendant act with deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others?” the court asked of the jury with respect to the defendant Honor The Earth.

“Yes,” the jury concluded on March 30 in response to the sexual harassment count.

“By clear and convincing evidence, did the Defendant act with deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others?” the court asked in connection to the two counts of retaliation.

“Yes,” the jury again answered.

Verdict: Margaret Campbell v. Honor The Earth [PDF]

According to six-page verdict, Honor The Earth must pay $375,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to Campbell for subjecting the former employee to sexual harassment. Another $375,000 was awarded for the two counts of retaliation.

“Sexual harassment remains a widespread problem that affects people of every background and in every type of workplace, including social change organizations,” said Christy Hall, a senior staff attorney for Gender Justice, which represented Campbell in the lawsuit against Honor The Earth.

“No matter who we are or where we work, we all deserve a workplace that is free from discrimination, harassment or abuse,” Hall said in a statement issued last Friday, a day after the verdict.

LaDuke, however, was not in court for the reading of the verdict. Neither was Honor The Earth’s attorney, for that matter.

According to an email filed in court in the early evening last Thursday, attorney Frank Bibeau represented that LaDuke was attending a meeting on the White Earth Nation and was unable to return in time to hear the verdict. The southern border of the reservation is about 15 minutes from the courthouse in Becker County

Bibeau, meanwhile, said he had “left town” following the conclusion of the trial on Thursday and was over an hour away from the courthouse in Detroit Lakes.

“We are to read the verdict without Mr. Bibeau and Ms. LaDuke,” a court worker informed Judge Gretchen Thilmony, who handled a case that was filed three years ago.

Email: Margaret Campbell v. Honor The Earth [PDF]

But on Friday, LaDuke issued a statement acknowledging the verdict against her organization. However, she characterized the sexual harassment that has been proven in court as “accusations” involving a former employee who was part of her inner circle at Honor The Earth.

She also appeared to diminish the severity of the case by referring to a prior Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation that she said had gone in her organization’s favor. What the statement left out was that a person who brings a claim of discrimination to the state department can pursue private legal action “at any time” by going to court.

“As we move forward from the court’s decision, we remain committed to resisting all forms of sexual harassment, violence and assault,” LaDuke said as she highlighted her organization’s “30 year history of courageous work” in environmental circles.

“Honor The Earth is an organization predominantly led by Indigenous women and we will continue our organizational mission to raise awareness and offer support to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Indigenous communities,” LaDuke said.

The sexual harassment stems from interactions between Campbell and Michael Dahl, another former employee of Honor The Earth. LaDuke, in her statement, referred to both as contract employees and said both worked for her organization until 2015.

In court, Campbell showed that LaDuke was repeatedly made aware of serious sexual misconduct complaints involving Dahl, another citizen of the White Earth Nation. According to the lawsuit, some of the incidents involved minor boys — including two of LaDuke’s adolescent sons — who were taking part in a horse ride organized by Honor The Earth in 2014.

Campbell also said Dahl made comments of a harassing nature about her appearance, and about women and girls. But rather than address the troubling behaviors, LaDuke responded “that’s just how Michael is” and spoke of his stature as a supposed “spiritual leader” in the Native community, Judge Thilmony wrote in a decision in the case.

Campbell further showed in court that Honor The Earth subjected her to retaliation for coming forward about Dahl. She was placed on leave without pay and was told by LaDuke that she should “stay quiet about what had happened,” Thilmony noted in the July 2019 decision, which rejected Honor The Earth’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Winona LaDuke and Michael Dahl
Winona LaDuke, left, and Michael Dahl are seen in a screenshot taken from a social media post documenting their participation in a horse ride through Minnesota in August 2014. Photo: Honor The Earth

After being placed on leave, Campbell informed LaDuke, as well as the entire board of directors for Honor The Earth, why she was resigning in early February 2015. Board members reacted to the news strongly — with some expressing grave concerns about the severity of the complaints involving Dahl.

“Emily and I knew nothing about this, this is the kind of thing we have to be in the loop on because of issues around potential press and social media,” Amy Ray said of herself and Emily Saliers, the musicians behind the Indigo Girls, whose popularity has helped promote Honor The Earth since they helped LaDuke start the organization in 1993.

“We are so heavily associated with Honor that this type of thing could be super damaging,” Ray said in an email filed in court. “[T]he people we have brought into the fold and the members of our fan base that support Honor, depend on us to be responsible about who we suggest as groups to support.”

The late Robert “Bob” Gough, a founding member of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, also expressed serious concerns about the sexual misconduct complaints involving Dahl. But an email filed in court shows that Honor The Earth instructed the board “to not make comments at this time.”

And while Campbell left on her own accord, according to the resignation and grievance she sent to the board, LaDuke cast the situation in a more negative light — once again highlighting the reprisal for which Honor The Earth was found liable. Documents filed in court show LaDuke told another major environmental organization that she had been directed by the board to “terminate” Campbell and that she filed a “cease and desist” against Campbell, apparently to get her former employee to stop talking about the sexual harassment and retaliation she experienced.

“We applaud Molly for refusing to stay silent,” Hall, the Gender Justice attorney, said of Campbell. “She reported the harassment to her boss, but rather than protect her the organization protected her harasser at her expense. But Margaret did not back down. Her lawsuit, and the jury’s findings, are an important reminder of the responsibility every employer has to end workplace harassment and abuse.”

The atmosphere of silence at Honor The Earth came back to haunt the organization through the lawsuit. Last June, Judge Thilmony determined that the organization “intentionally destroyed material evidence” in hopes of derailing Campbell’s sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

Honor The Earth was later ordered to pay $52,960 to Gender Justice in connection with Campbell’s numerous efforts to obtain information for the case. And as the lawsuit finally went to trial, Thilmony informed the jury about the organization’s missteps.

“In this case, the Court has determined that Defendant Honor the Earth intentionally destroyed some emails from a time period including January to May of 2015,” the March 23 instructions to the jury stated. “Honor the Earth was required to preserve these emails as evidence, but instead, it intentionally destroyed them in an effort to deprive Margaret Campbell of relevant evidence.”

“You must infer from this fact that the contents of the destroyed emails would have been helpful to Plaintiff Margaret Campbell’s claims and harmful to Defendant Honor the Earth’s defenses,” the instructions said.

Still, Campbell’s legal team was able to uncover some damning evidence, including a series of messages in which LaDuke acknowledges the need to discuss the sexual misconduct allegations by telling Dahl that “you’re in a bit of a pickle i think and i want to help you get out of htat [sic] pickle if i can.”

LaDuke added: “or at least be your friend,”

Honor The Earth and Michael Dahl
A screenshot of an August 10, 2014, social media post promoting Michael Dahl’s efforts on behalf of Honor The Earth. The testimony referenced in the post has since been removed from a video sharing site.

In another message, LaDuke indicated that she was aware of more than one allegation against Dahl involving minors. “I need to get it all worked out because i believe in you,” she wrote.

“I know nothing of any allegations on white earth,” Dahl replied, when asked specifically about one of the allegations. “I can find out tho. Wouldn’t be hard.”

Documents filed in court also show a wide range of figures in the Native environmental movement were aware of allegations against Dahl. Campbell’s resignation and grievance was sent to, among others, Dallas Goldtooth, a well-known performer and activist who is part of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

According to the lawsuit, Campbell had in fact already approached Goldtooth, who is Mdewakanton Dakota and Dińe (Navajo), to inform him about her dealings with LaDuke. Goldtooth encouraged Campbell to speak out, the complaint states, but the conversations were instead used as the basis to put Campbell on leave from Honor The Earth in February 2015.

Native women also raised alarms about the organization’s handling of misconduct allegations, the lawsuit shows. In January 2015, Lonna Stevens-Hunter from the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Bonnie Clairmont from the Tribal Law and Policy Institute met with LaDuke and told her of a sexual assault incident involving Dahl and a boy from the White Earth Nation — the details of which match the message LaDuke sent to Dahl about a “15 year old youth.”

Open Letter to Honor The Earth
A screenshot of a portion of an open letter to Honor The Earth, sent in connection with the organization’s handling of sexual violence.

Stevens-Hunter, who is Tlingit and Sisseton-Wahpehton Oyate, and Clairmont, who hails from the Ho-Chunk Nation, later joined an open letter sent to LaDuke, the board of Honor the Earth and the board of another LaDuke organization called the White Earth Land Recovery Project. The message expressed shock at the ways in which the Native women advocates said LaDuke diminished the sexual misconduct allegations during their meeting.

“As women, we already experience the endemic nature of misogyny, harassment, commodification of women and children and violence against them in our communities,” the February 19, 2015, letter reads. “When our own Native organizations continue to dismiss reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment as insignificant, we contribute to the colonial climate of fear and hopelessness.”

Additionally, Campbell’s legal team discovered that the board and staff at Honor the Earth were aware of sexual abuse allegations involving another person in LaDuke’s circle — long after Campbell came forward about Dahl. An employee referred to the second individual as a “known predator” of young people yet warned against dismissing him from the organization’s workplace.

“There are a lot of boys that he inflicted trauma onto,” the January 2019 email reads.

“Winona, we need to hear from you on these allegations,” board member Emily Saliers, the other half of the Indigo Girls, wrote in response.

Winona LaDuke and Nahko Bear
Winona LaDuke appears at the bottom of the screen with musician and then-Honor The Earth board member Nahko Bear during one of the musician’s live broadcasts in April 2020. The broadcast was promoted by Honor The Earth on social media.

Barely a year later, yet another incident cast negative light on LaDuke’s handling of sexual misconduct. Starting in early 2020, an Honor the Earth board member — a musician who goes by the name Nahko Bear — was publicly accused of harassment by a young Native person and by others of similar behaviors.

“Nahko worked with Honor the Earth for a number of years, providing benefit concerts, supporting our messaging and work. We had no knowledge of this alleged behavior,” LaDuke told Indianz.Com in July 2020. The organization had promoted Nahko’s music in a series of social media posts in the months following the #MuteNahko campaign statement in February of that year.

She added: “I know he is not a rapist.”

In addition to inquiring about the sexual harassment allegations, Indianz.Com asked if LaDuke knew whether her board member belonged to any of the tribal nations he has claimed. Over the years, the musician — who has gone by the names Joel Miguel Nahkohe-ese Parayno and David Joel Nahkohe-ese Bell and has been identified in Honor The Earth non-profit tax filings as Nahkohe Parayno — has said he is Apache and Mohawk but has not been specific about which Apache or Mohawk community.

“I know he’s indigenous,” LaDuke said, without explaining why she believes the claims made by someone in her circle.

And in a lament about what she described as the downsides of “call out” culture, she told Indianz.Com: “I find it tragic that we claim people and then discard them …it’s like social cannibalism.”

Honor The Earth and Nahko Bear
A screenshot of a June 6, 2020, social media post from Honor The Earth praising then-board member Nahko Bear.

Indianz.Com also contacted Nahko Bear via social media to ask about the allegations but did not receive a response. By that time, Honor The Earth announced that the musician was leaving the organization in a statement that appeared to echo LaDuke’s call of leniency for an alleged perpetrator of sexual misconduct.

“We will pray for resolution and healing,” the July 8, 2020, statement read, a copy of which no longer appears to be accessible on “We will pray for the women who are speaking out that they find justice and healing. We hope that the community supports the healing work ahead for our women and communities.”

“We also hope that healing is supported for Nahko,” the board of directors statement read.

But another prominent Indian Country organization is not taking the sexual harassment and retaliation verdict lightly. In a statement on Monday, NDN Collective said it had been kept in the dark about the legal jeopardy facing Honor The Earth, which has benefited financially from an ongoing relationship between the two non-profits.

“Honor the Earth is a grantee-partner of NDN Collective, and has received both grant funding and financial event sponsorship from us,” the statement read. “And yet despite clear expectations in our standard grant agreements to disclose any information about current or new litigation, Honor the Earth failed to inform us of ongoing legal proceedings.”

Despite not being aware of a lawsuit that had been filed more than four years ago, or being told of an appeal that resulted in a decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, or being informed of a trial that had been scheduled several months prior, NDN Collective asserted its intent to “fully support the ruling against Honor the Earth in favor of the victim and plaintiff, and call upon Honor the Earth to commit to the deep and meaningful work of reflection, growth, and self-accountability.”

“NDN Collective does not support sexual harassment or sexual assault in any form, within our organization or from any of our partners or grantees,” the statement continued. “We understand both the importance and challenge of ensuring that our actions align with our policies and that we vet staff, contractors, and partners to create safe and supportive spaces for all. We are committed to doing the due diligence needed to ensure we protect our staff and community, and that our policies and protocol transparently reflect our values.”

The organizations have been connected in more ways than one. In December, Honor The Earth announced the hiring of three employees from NDN Collective in a statement that indicated more staff would be coming on board as LaDuke’s group moves to a new office in Ponsford, Minnesota.

LaDuke’s work had previously been based in Calloway, which incidentally is just 15 minutes from the courthouse where Honor The Earth’s attorney represented was too far to reach in time for the verdict. Ponsford is more than 30 minutes away.

“Honor the Earth is preparing for a return to national work supporting Indigenous peoples and the protection of our Mother Earth,” LaDuke’s organization said on December 21, 2022. “To do this, we need to increase our staff and ability to actualize our vision. In the upcoming year, we will begin that process.

The new hires include Krystal Two Bulls, who is Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne and previously worked as head of NDN Collective’s LANDBACK campaign. She is now serving as Honor The Earth’s “co-executive director” — alongside LaDuke.

“We are grateful to create space in our organization, gathering these three new employees from the LANDBACK Campaign at NDN COLLECTIVE, whose mission readily aligns with Honors,” the announcement read.

On Monday, NDN Collective said its grantee-partnership with Honor the Earth ends on April 14. The organization indicated that it would not engage in future work with LaDuke’s camp without assurances that protect staff and community members.

“Our prayers are with the victims and survivors who have been harmed by Honor the Earth and the perpetrator Michael Dahl,” NDN Collective said said. “As an organization connected to Honor the Earth, we commit ourselves to actions of accountability of perpetrators and those who protect and support them, as this is integral to true healing.”

After being told by email in 2015 to “not make comments” about the Michael Dahl allegations and raising concerns in 2019 about the “known predator” in Honor The Earth’s circle, co-founders Amy Ray and Emily Saliers remain listed as board members of the organization. Last month, they took part in a panel presentation at the South by Southwest music, film and media conference along with fellow board member Cynthia Perez of the Indigenous Women’s Network.

The 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.
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