Above Image: Winona LaDuke, founder and executive director of Honor the Earth discusses the Dakota Access Pipeline during an appearance on Democracy Now! in 2016.
A prominent Minnesota environmental group is now in the crosshairs of the #MeToo movement, accused of trying to silence a former employee who was sexually harassed by a coworker “credibly accused” of molesting young boys.
Honor the Earth “failed to take these accusations seriously” and cultivated a workplace environment where claims of sexual harassment when unaddressed, according to a lawsuit filed recently filed by former employee Margret Campbell.
The complaint details how Michael Dahl, an Honor the Earth employee responsible for youth organizing, was allowed to remain an employee of Honor the Earth and subject Campbell to routine harassment while the organization’s leadership, including executive director Winona LaDuke, sat by and did nothing.
According to Campbell, LaDuke invented numerous excuses to defend Dahl’s inappropriate behavior, including using his “status as a spiritual leader to justify his actions” and claiming that he “just lacked social skills.”
Once, while attending a fundraising retreat in Canada, Dahl, in front of a group of colleagues, asked Campbell, “Who’d you fuck last night? … You look like you’ve been fucked.”
Upon informing LaDuke of the incident, Campbell was told Dahl suffered from “verbal Tourette’s” and could not be held accountable for his words. Campbell received an equally dismissive response when she elevated the incident to Honor the Earth’s board of directors:
“Next, Campbell reached out to Jennifer Kreisberg, who served on the Board of Directors for Honor the Earth. Kreisberg claimed Dahl was gay and that was why he made the comments. She told Campbell, “just don’t let people treat you that way.” Campbell took this to mean that the problem was not Dahl’s inappropriate comments, but rather that she was not strong enough to stand up for herself.”
Finally, nearly three months after Campbell first informed her of Dahl’s alleged encounters sexual with minors, LaDuke agreed to look into the incident. At the end of January 2015, LaDuke and Campbell met with Lonna Stevens-Hunter of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Bonnie Clairmont of the Tribal Law Policy Institute to learn more about the allegations against Dahl. Clairmont and Stevens-Hunter described to LaDuke a 2012 ceremony in which a mother declined a gift from Dahl and informed those present “that Dahl had sexually abused her son when he was fifteen.”
LaDuke questioned the validity of the allegations and following the meeting took no actions to limit Dahl’s work with native youth despite strong objections from Campbell. Privately however, LaDuke seems to have adopted a different position, lending credence to the idea that Dahl may not be innocent.
On January 31, 2015, LaDuke sent Dahl a message on Facebook seeming to acknowledge his wrongdoings and offering to help him get out of the “pickle” that he was in.
A few days letter Winona LaDuke told Terri LaDuke, a relative she’d tasked with looking into the allegations, that Dahl “probably did have sex with this guy,” but didn’t think he “is a predator or a pedophile.”
In response, Terri said, “big mistake made to experiment with hat (sic) boy.” Despite their mutual agreement that Dahl had engaged in sexual behavior with a minor, both Winona and Terri were unwilling to take action. “Don’t fire Mike,” Terri wrote.
Following her conversation with Terri, Winona told members of Honor the Earth’s board of directors that she “confidentially checked out the story” with and that “she really does believe [Dahl’s] version is the correct one as well.”
Two days later an Honor the Earth board member informed Campbell that she was being placed on unpaid administrative leave for allegedly breaking the organizations non-existent confidentiality policy when discussing her concerns about Dahl with another environmental activist. Campbell resigned shortly thereafter.
LaDuke did not take the resignation lightly, threatening to sue Campbell for defamation and warning her that continuing to speak out would jeopardize her “continued political work in this realm.”
Campbell refused to be silenced and on February 19, 2019, co-signed an open letter with 37 other community leaders admonishing LaDuke for her behavior and encouraging her to take corrective action. “Your organizations’ actions to minimize and excuse the allegations against Michael “Mike” Dahl based on your personal relationship with him is disrespectful to victims in our communities,” the group wrote.
LaDuke has since worked behind the scenes to blacklist Campbell from other employment opportunities, including successfully lobbying 350.org to deny her a job.
In response to the lawsuit, now pending in Minnesota state court, an attorney for Honor the Earth has requested the complaint be dismissed because the allegations took place on tribal lands and are thus not within the court’s jurisdiction.