Northern, southern routes converge to deliver manifesto
WASHINGTON - After five months of walking across the United States to draw attention to Native and environmental issues, the northern and southern routes of the Longest Walk II converged in Washington, D.C., July 11 and were greeted by more than 1,000 people.
The walk commemorated the 30-year anniversary of the 1978 Longest Walk, which was held to protest the United States' refusal to honor Indian treaties.
The 2008 walk, under the theme ''All Life is Sacred: Clean Up Mother Earth,'' successfully drew attention to universal issues like global warming, as well as the hard issues currently affecting Native communities, said Dennis Banks, organizer of the walk.
Banks, flanked by a crowd of walkers, delivered a manifesto to Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in a park near the Capitol building.
Volunteers had stayed up all night working on the manifesto, which was the culmination of 8,000 miles of walking and visits to Native communities in more than 26 states.
''What we have come to understand alarms us greatly,'' they wrote. ''Many of the same issues that were presented to the Longest Walk in 1978 are ongoing issues that have not changed or have even worsened.''
The manifesto specifically mentioned health, environmental exploitation, poverty and Native mascots as ongoing issues.
Sixteen resolutions in the manifesto asked Congress to enact legislation to protect Native sacred sites, ensure Native consent and sovereignty over actions affecting their lands, and halt resource exploitation and environmental damage in the Arizona Peaks, Pilot Knob, Glen Cove, the Colorado River, Black Mesa and Desert Rock.
A call for improved Indian health services, the ratification of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, federal recognition for the Houma Tribe, freedom for Leonard Peltier and the establishment of an Environmental Bill of Rights were among the other resolutions.
There has already been talk at international conferences of implementing an environmental bill of rights, Banks said.
''I think that's important,'' he stressed. ''Does the air have a right to remain the way it is? I believe it has.''
Conyers promised to establish an investigative committee to look into the issues brought up in the manifesto.
In a ceremony near the Washington Monument, Banks officially retired as a leader of the American Indian Movement, an organization he started with other Native activists in the late 1960s. He said he would continue to stay active as an elder and adviser, and passed four staffs on to younger Native leaders.
A pow wow was held near the Museum of the American Indian July12 and 13.
Performer Harry Belafonte, actress Darryl Hannah and activist Dick Gregory showed up to offer their support.
The walkers, who started with a sunrise ceremony on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Feb. 11, included Natives and non-Natives from all over the continent, as well as Japanese and Europeans.
Of the several hundred walkers and supporters who pitched their tents in Greenbelt Park outside Washington, approximately 20 had walked the entire way. But thousands participated along the two routes by walking, picking up trash, carrying water and luggage, preparing food, and greeting the walkers with pow wows and other events.
Those who walked endured aching muscles, blisters, torn ligaments and other injuries along the way. Tempers flared, and chaos and unpredictability were constant companions. But new friendships and alliances were formed, and tribes and communities along the way repeatedly told walkers they brought not only the flags, prayers and songs of many nations with them, but also hope.
For the walkers who made it ''all the way'' to Washington, D.C., the journey was worth it.
''I did this walk to pay my respects to my auntie and my cousin who did the walk 30 years ago and helped out a lot of Native communities,'' said Willie Sittinghorse Kirk, Chippewa/Cree, who started in Alcatraz and also raised funds by dancing.
''I'm really glad that I did this, because everybody needs to experience something good in their lives. And for me, this was good.''