USA: Longest Walk 2 for Native Americans rights

Two weeks ago an 8,000-Mile Walk for Native American Rights, Environmental Protection, and to Stop Global Warming reached its destination in Washington, DC. Started on the opposite coast, in the San Francisco Bay Area, on February 11, 2008, the Longest Walk 2 delivered a 30-page manifesto and list of demands to Congress, which included climate change mitigation, environmental sustainability, the protection of sacred sites, and items regarding Native American sovereignty and health.

Hundreds of walkers representing more than 100 Native American Nations, plus an active International group, embarked on a journey that lasted 175 days (4,200 hrs.) criss-crossing 26 states along two separate routes – through rain, snow, and even a tornado. They also picked up more than 8,000 bags of trash on the roads they traveled. “As we walked through this land we were horrified to see the extent in which Mother Earth has been raped, ravaged and exploited,” noted the Manifesto for Change.

Longest Walk 2 arrives in Washington, DC
Photo republished from the Longest Walk DC Photos gallery

The trek also commemorated the 1978 Longest Walk, a similar campaign that led to the defeat of 11 anti-Native American bills pending in Congress and the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Despite the lack of coverage in the mainstream media (in the US and elsewhere), the event was a successful community effort and revealed an effective use of citizen media. In fact, its main website provides plenty of information, including hundreds of photos and dozens of videos – such as the following one about a wedding ceremony held at the Carson Indian Colony during the Walk:

Particularly touching the Voices from the Walk section, with so many posts providing a vivid, first-hand description of daily matters, personal struggles and achievements, along with participants’ interviews, political statements and much more.

In one of those stories Melinda sheds some light on the everyday-sacred routine:

[South Route: Greensboro, June 22, 2008 10:27am] The routine is wakeup [4am], prayer, pack and load your gear on the trucks; tents and sleeping bags on one truck, luggage on the other. Then everyone comes together in a circle. After a briefing on the day’s schedule, an elder smudges the walkers as they file out. The earth is silent. All is still asleep. The bright moon lights our way as we snake down along our road. The ear can stretch far in the darkness seeking sound. For a good long while, it is just our footsteps. Ahh, the sound of sixty people walking. This is a sound to hear.

Maggie Madden gives us a glimpse of the global interdependency at play:

[South Route: 6/25/08] Breakfast was very yummy. Whenever the Japanese people are on kitchen crew we eat really healthy, tasty food. Kiyoko is a cook in Japan and she has been the most consistent dedicated cook on the walk. The only reason she hasn’t been here the whole time is because she had to return to Japan to renew her visa. She is always hanging out around the kitchen cooking yummy things for us and she walks everyday. She is very dedicated.

On a different note, Dennis Banks, one of the leading figures of the march and co-founder of the American Indian Movement in 1968, sends a public Thank You to GM [General Motors]:

[Thursday, 26 June 2008] Cheri Grohoski, GM's General Manager agreed with the Environmental Concerns of The Longest Walk 2 and “The Clean Up Mother Earth Campaign” of The Longest Walk, began discussions with Ray St. Clair in early February 2008 and presented the 3 vehicles to him on June 24th, 2008 at GM's General Offices at Detroit, Michigan. The vehicles will be used to help pick up trash and transport elders in and around D.C.

Obviously, the Long Walkers couldn't avoid some dramatic moments. Here is how Brenda Norrell describes an unexpected police charge in Columbus, Ohio:

[Wednesday, 04 June 2008] Unprovoked Columbus, Ohio police attacked Long Walkers, by first pointing a taser at the head of Michael Lane and then forcing Luv the Mezenger to the ground and handcuffing him. The Longest Walk Northern Route was walking this prayer through Columbus on Monday, June 2, when police squad cars and arrest wagons arrived. Without discussion of the purpose of the prayer walk, or verifying that the Ohio Department of Transportation had been notified of the prayer walk, police attacked the walkers.

This episode was later discussed on the Longest Walk Talk show on Earthcycles web radio, which also provided live reports from the march itself.

Another walker, Brita Brookes, contributes some insight on the overall goal and scope of such initiatives:

[Tuesday, 27 May 2008] The greatest cause of tension and conflict in this world is sometimes caused by the misunderstanding of two different cultures, or perhaps from the lack of actually getting to know each other, assumptions, rumors or plain misconceptions about a behavior or culture can lead damaging events perhaps worse than tornados and earthquakes.

Finally, the inevitable questions: “What is it that we learned in the last 5 months? And what is next?”

Among others, Morning Star Gali offers words of peace and gratitude as a promising outcome for future trails:

[Thursday, 17 July 2008] The last few days of the walk, I tried as much as I could to talk with walkers, to talk to the youth and hear from them firsthand what their experience was, what challenges they faced, what helped to shape their experience along the way. To everyone I encountered, I shook their hands and thanked them for walking — for making that sacrifice and carrying those prayers for if it wasn't for them, it all would not have been possible.

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