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“We’re about environmental education, action and advocacy,” says Mary Robinson, director of development for the Grand Rapids-based West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC). “We’ve been around for 49 years and have been involved in some of the biggest environmental advocacy movements from saving the dunes to the bottle bill to helping put together the EPA.”

WMEAC hosts the annual Women and the Environment Symposium. Events highlight various aspects of how women advocate for themselves, for others, and for the environment.

Robinson joins Kirk Heinze on Greening of the Great Lakes.

“The symposium came out of the belief that women are the caretakers across cultures,” Robinson says. “We have a special focus on environmental issues because we want to make sure that we’re healthy and that our families are healthy. Many environmental issues involve public health issues from clean water to good food to the chemicals going into our food.”

Jessie Schulte was honored in the Woman of Vision category as a Hidden Heroin at the event. She’s the district administrator at Kent Conservation District.

“We help land owners help the land,” Schulte says.

She talks about assisting citizens with MAEAP certification. And she says that some of her work focuses on early detection of invasive species like black swallow-wort, which she says is a vine in the milkweed family that “is becoming a monster in Oakland County.”

Some invasive species are deceptively beautiful.

“There’s a plant called black jetbead. It’s beautiful and in the rose family. Unfortunately in the states just south of us it dominates the understory of our beautiful forests. We’re losing biodiversity and habitat, and these invasive species are a really quiet, silent threat.
They start spreading under the forest. If we don’t get them under control, we’re going to lose that precious biodiversity.”

Schulte says there’s “funding available to get conservation practices on the ground” and that she will be spending much of the next five years reaching out to farmers and land owners to show them how to protect the watersheds by installing conservation practices.

This year’s symposium culminated with a keynote address from Winona LaDuke, an environmental leader and one of the most influential environmentalists of our time.

She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, and is a two-time vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party.

As program director of Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities.

And in her community, she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation based non-profit organizations in the country, and a leader on the issues of culturally-based sustainable development strategies, renewable energy and food systems.

LaDuke updates Heinze on her work battling pipelines and calls one in particular the Dakota “Excess” Pipeline.

“Michigan is the epicenter of a lot of these pipeline battles and is also the perfect place to talk about infrastructure for people, not for corporations.”

She encouraged attendees to her address “do the right thing in their own communities and rankle against stupid government and corporate policies; stand strong, be principled and have courage and have vision.”

LaDuke hopes more Americans “get woke and stay woke. It’s time to make sure we all work hard together. It’s time to unify our movements; we need a ‘movement of movements.’ This is no time to sit on the sidelines and say you don’t like people. Because if you keep doing that, you’re going to be by yourself.”

Greening of the Great Lakes airs every Sunday evening at 7:00 on News/Talk 760 WJR and around the state each weekend via the Michigan Talk Network.

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