Winona LaDuke conducted unauthorized transactions and mishandled harassment allegations as head of her nonprofit
Winona LaDuke, co-founder and former executive director of the environmental group Honor the Earth, mishandled sexual harassment allegations and used the organization’s funds to make unauthorized payments to family members, according to allegations in court documents filed by Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office after the investigation. In the non-profit organization.
The Attorney General’s Charities Division’s investigation into LaDuke was announced as part of a “Stop Guarantee” order issued Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court. The findings are divided into several sections on alleged misconduct and abuse by LaDuke and Honor the Earth, which she founded with Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in 1993.
One finding was that LaDuke made repeated financial transactions between Honor the Earth and four family members who worked for the nonprofit “for purposes that did not benefit the company.” The transactions were made without board approval, and often without proper documentation, according to court documents.
The order does not say how much money LaDuke was supposed to send, but the transactions allegedly included several interest-free loans that family members used to make “large purchases” such as vehicles, and to pay rent and bills. Family members included her daughter, two sons, and a sister.
Honor the Earth officials told investigators that the group lacked a systematic record-keeping procedure to track its transactions, and that many transactions were approved on an “ad hoc basis via email, rather than by board decision.”
Nadia Tannous, deputy director of Honor the Earth, said in a press release that the group has worked over the past five months with the Attorney General’s Office to return to compliance with non-profit regulations.
“This guarantee is a big step because it allows us to focus on the real and broader issues at hand, with a renewed focus on land reclamation initiatives, the struggle against ‘green colonialism’ and resistance to the settler colonial military projects that underlie it.” “They are at the heart of many indigenous struggles,” Tannous said. “We are committed to helping people understand and take action against these conflicts.”
Before she resigned as executive director of Honor the Earth last April, LaDuke earned an annual salary of about $88,500. The nonprofit received more than $7 million in contributions and grants in 2021, according to the most recent tax return filed with the attorney general’s office.
LaDuke declined to immediately comment on the findings and allegations released Thursday night, saying in an email that she would respond later after reviewing the matter.
Another section of the order focuses on the organization’s alleged failure to properly handle internal complaints of misconduct and sexual harassment. LaDuke’s resignation last year came shortly after Honor the Earth lost a sexual harassment case, in which a Baker County jury awarded former employee Margaret Campbell $750,000 for lost wages and emotional distress.
In the 2019 complaint, Campbell alleged that the group’s board “took no action to investigate or address” her allegation that another employee sexually harassed herself and others, the attorney general’s office wrote in the order. Campbell claimed she notified board members and made “repeated complaints” to LaDuke, but no action was taken. Documents filed with the district attorney’s office showed that LaDuke issued memos to the board dismissing additional complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct without conducting an investigation.
The order also alleges that the nonprofit violated state law by continuing to collect donations from Minnesota residents despite petitioning to withdraw its charitable registration in 2021.
The “Stop Guarantee” order represents an agreement between the Attorney General’s Office and Honor the Earth, and includes steps the nonprofit must take to address past alleged misconduct, recover and move forward. It also lists repairs that have already been made.
The order states that since the conclusion of the sexual harassment case, the nonprofit has adopted “significant” policies and procedures to improve compliance and prohibit harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It has appointed two new board members and has a plan to replace all directors who served before April 2023 by the end of this year.
None of LaDuke’s family members still work for the nonprofit, and most of the staff have been replaced since her resignation, according to the order. Additional steps taken by Honor the Earth include hiring attorneys experienced in advising nonprofits on compliance with charity laws, and hiring a human resources consultant.
If the nonprofit misuses funds or violates governance rules, the Attorney General’s Office can seek a court order to dissolve it, issue fines, or prohibit it from operating in Minnesota. One of the requirements listed is that the nonprofit must completely separate from the Anishinaabe Agricultural Institute and Akiing 8th Fire, which LaDuke founded and with which Honor the Earth has partnered, before 2023.