Sacred Hoop reaches end of journey

WASHINGTON, D.C. - After a journey of 3,800 miles, a group of 25 core walkers reached Washington, 109 days after leaving Los Angeles.

The core walkers were part of a cross-country walk called the "Journey of the Sacred Hoop: A Nationwide Walk for Healing, Wellbriety, and an End to Family Violence." The walkers undertook the "pilgrimage" to bring the message of sobriety, healing, and non-violence to communities across the nation both American Indian and non-Indian.

Journey's end included a special honoring ceremony for Ira Hayes at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va.

"Our mothers, our fathers, our grandmothers, our children and our relatives have served with distinction so we can all have freedom in this country of ours and respect the flag that represents freedom," New Mexico coordinator and emcee Frank Adakai, Navajo, said.

Gesturing toward the memorial, he said, "It gives us great pleasure to honor one of our own, Ira Hayes (a Pima), who is up there."

In another, unplanned event at the honoring, elder Ozzie Williamson, Blackfeet, from Billings, Mont., received a medal for his service during the Korean War. It was presented to him by an officer who had stopped to help when the car in which Williamson was riding ran out of gas near the Memorial. The officer happened to have the medal with him, brought it to the ceremony and pinned it on Williamson's chest in a touching and moving moment.

"The walkers have carried a message of hope that our nation can heal from the ravages of chemical addiction, drug and alcohol abuse, and family violence," said Don Coyhis, a Mohican and director of White Bison Inc.

"White Bison has a vision of facilitating the entry of 100 communities into healing by the year 2010.

"The journey of the Sacred Hoop will usher in a wellbriety commitment for those who are inspired," Coyhis said. "Wellbriety is a balanced life of sobriety and wellness, including the ending of harmful behavior such as family violence."

White Bison, which organized the journey, is a non-profit organization involved in community healing and change in the Native American and larger community for more than a dozen years.

Throughout the walk, formal conferences and informal sessions presented teachings, learning experiences and prevention models which can be carried forward into plans of action for healing individuals, families and communities from drug- and alcohol-addictions and violence.

The walk was called the "Journey of the Sacred Hoop" because of the 100-eagle feather hoop carried by participants across the nation. A statement from White Bison said the ceremonial object carries the gifts of healing, hope, unity, and forgiveness. Primary goal of the journey was to reach American Indian communities, but all people and communities have been invited to participate.

Walkers left Los Angeles April 2 and arrived in the Washington area July 8.

In the capital, the journey concluded with walkers and veterans visiting the Korean, Vietnam, and Vietnam Nurses memorials to honor all veterans. The entourage proceeded to the future site of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian to acknowledge the museum's responsibility for Native ancestors and artifacts before commencing a final "Strengthening the Family" conference at the Department of the Interior.

It was attended by many from throughout Indian country, the federal government and the anti-drug and alcohol community. The message conveyed by many speakers were basic and to the point, filled with passion and a commitment to end practices which have destroyed the family.

"Alcoholism and substance abuse is one of the greatest threats to Indian country," said Mark Van Norman, a member of the Cheyenne Rive Sioux Tribe and director of the Office of Tribal Justice within the Department of Justice.

"Four of the top ten causes of death in Indian communities are alcohol and drug related. It's through grass-roots efforts like these that true change is possible. We have tribal drug court programs that tribes have now turned into wellness courts, an action that the attorney general wholeheartedly supports."

The conference was also attended by Susan Masten, president of the National Congress of American Indians and Kevin Gover, Interior's assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. Events ended with a closing ceremony and small pow wow to celebrate success of the walk and the future effects of "a continuing journey."