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Honor The Earth ordered to pay $750K in sexual harassment case, leader Winona LaDuke resigns

WCCO digital headlines: Morning of April 5, 2023
WCCO digital headlines: Morning of April 5, 2023 01:17

MINNEAPOLIS -- After 30 years with the environmental justice group Honor The Earth, co-founder and executive director Winona LaDuke says she's resigning. It comes after the group lost a $750,000 sexual harassment case.

Environmental activist Winona LaDuke talks with a member of the Ojibwe community during a Totem Pole consecration ceremony held by the House of Tear Carvers at the Shell City campground in Menahga, Minnesota on July 25, 2021.  KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday, LaDuke announced she's stepping down from national work with the organization she co-created with The Indigo Girls. She submitted her resignation letter to the group's board of directors on Monday.

In a press release, the group says the transition plan was already underway, but "is now accelerated." Executive co-director Krystal Two Bulls is assuming the sole leadership role, with LaDuke continuing to support the transition.

LaDuke says she decided to accelerate the transition after the Becker County court's decision in a sexual harassment case. The jury found Honor the Earth guilty on all counts and imposed a $750,000 fine. A former employee accused the organization of ignoring her reports of sexual harassment and retaliating against her.

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In her transition letter, LaDuke apologized for not responding to the claims with "the appropriate care and urgency."

"I was the Executive Director, and it was my job to create a good foundation to heal and move forward," she said.

LaDuke did contend that the court system targets Native people and since the jury was nearly all non-Indigenous, she said it was "unsurprising" that the court leveled a "staggering and disproportionate" fine against Honor The Earth. 

Honor the Earth also cited two decisions from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that found no wrongdoing in the alleged harassment case, and added that the agency reaffirmed its decision after an appeal by the former employee. 

If you are a survivor of sexual assault or are supporting someone who is, you can get support at the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or on the RAINN website.

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