Onaway Builds Native Trust

Native Americans across the continent continue to struggle against environmental and social injustice. Tribal lands are disproportionately ravaged by mining and forestry industries, and every site in America currently proposed to store nuclear waste is on Native lands, according to the advocacy group Honor the Earth. Along with the destruction of traditional culture and the unusually high occurrence of crippling diseases like diabetes, alcoholism and drug abuse have plagued tribal communities. At the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, where the average per-capita income is $4,917, barely 10 percent of the land is Native-owned, according to the reservation’s website. White Earth tribal member and national activist Winona LaDuke says, "If you don’t control your land, you don’t control your destiny."

Since the 1970s, the Onaway Trust, a small, progressive foundation based in Yorkshire, United Kingdom, has helped Native Americans build sustainable communities on traditional principles.

The organization, named after the Ojibwe word for "awake," receives individual donations from a few dedicated supporters. Trust Administrator David Watters, who spends much of the year visiting the group’s project sites around the world, says the strength of the organization lies in its open communication and small size.

At the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the Onaway Trust is helping Lakota communities establish organic gardens and sustainably produce traditional artwork. Onaway is also working with tribal leaders to revive some of the fading indigenous customs, including sweat lodge ceremonies. "The rituals hold the community together and lead the people away from the destructive paths of alcoholism and despair," says Watters. At the White Earth Reservation, the foundation helps the Ojibwe people to sustainably harvest rice, maple syrup and medicinal plants. The group also promotes Earthship Biotecture construction, which uses packed soil and simple, recycled materials like old tires in naturally insulated, energy-efficient dwellings. Solar power, rainwater collection and natural water filtration are integral systems in these structures.

In Great Britain, Onaway supports the Woodland Trust, Compassion in World Farming (which works to alleviate the suffering of farm animals) and Index on Censorship, a bi-monthly magazine focused on free speech. The foundation also assists the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and it is providing education and basic supplies, such as sewing machines, to poor women and street children in India.

Onaway is planning an interactive website to link its programs across the world. The trust has committed all of its available funds for the near future but welcomes new public contributions.