Musical harmony caps the Longest Walk II
By Rob Capriccioso -- Today staff
WASHINGTON - After walking 8,300 miles from Alcatraz to Washington, some people's feet were no doubt hurting. But that didn't stop them from dancing.
Several bands and individual musicians were on hand to perform at the closing ceremonies of the Longest Walk II, held in the shadow of the nation's Capitol July 12 and 13. The event took place in recognition of the original 1978 American Indian Movement Longest Walk for Native Rights.
Since the Feb. 11 beginning, the journey has seen hundreds of Indian and non-Indian participants join in the movement, which was aimed at drawing attention to the effects of environmental devastation on American Indians and all people. Some walkers took part in only short stretches; others walked and even ran for large segments.
''Sure, we wanted everyone to have the chance to rock out and let their hair down,'' Dennis Banks, a lead organizer of the event, said at one point during the closing ceremonies. The famous Anishinaabe leader co-founded AIM in 1968 in an effort to protect treaty rights and the traditional ways of Indian peoples.
With assistance from national Native groups and individual donors, organizers of the latest incarnation of the event were able to secure a section of the National Mall and set up a stage with the Capitol as a backdrop. Organizations, including the National Museum of the American Indian, made small donations, including bottled water, to help in the effort.
Like all good rockers, the longest walkers even had their own tour bus to help carry participants along the way. Organizers purchased a former school bus from an Indian school in Flagstaff, Ariz., then painted it white and fitted it with solar panels to help generate electricity to run its battery. The bus was to be sold at the conclusion of the walk.
One of the first acts to take the stage during the closing festivities was the Snowbird Singers, a group of Indian women, many of Ojibwe descent, from the Great Lakes region. They sang a variety of music in a traditional drumbeat-laced style - from Honor Songs about water to modern interpretations of the writings of poet Sherman Alexie.
''Ojibwe Chick,'' one of the Snowbird Singers, explained that their mission is to sing for peace, strength, unity and Mother Earth. The group, which has been around since 2005, was named Wabanaisee, or snowbird, by a tribal elder because the snowbird is known as a tough little bird that stays in a group and braves long cold northern winters. And seldom is a lone snowbird observed - they are usually seen in groups singing and playfully flying about.
Later, Kid Valance, a sacred runner during large portions of the walk, took the stage. Throughout the ceremonies, many walkers and runners credited the Kentucky native for keeping their spirits up during the long journey and for helping train several runners.
Valance played a guitar and sang alternative rock covers of a song he wrote during the journey called ''Two Horses, All Nation as One.''
''We were running strong - strong and free,'' Valance sang during one section of his harmony. ''We give thanks for the miles that we traveled.''
''Love Messenger,'' a Native hip-hop artist, and Tracey Amos, an inspirational singer, later performed to much applause. Amos explained that sales of her CD at the event were helping to pay for gas money for some Native walkers to get back home.
The highlight of the closing ceremonies for many young Indian people in attendance was an appearance by the increasingly popular metal group Bloodline. The band, composed of vocalist Loren Anthony, guitarists Virgil Wilson and Leland Anthony III, and drummer Davidson Steel, has been performing in the Southwest region since 1998.
Bloodline is set to soon release a full-length album and is currently seeing its music rotated on a growing number of rock stations nationwide.
The group decided to join Longest Walk II for its closing events to help spread awareness of the mission. In their effort, the band premiered a song especially for the movement called ''My Blood, My Sweat, My Tears.'' Anthony, a member of the Navajo Nation, said that they will be playing the song on an upcoming airing of the popular ''Jimmy Kimmel Live!'' late night show.
''We were proud to be a part of this,'' said Anthony, who wore a ''Property of Dine' Nation'' shirt during his performance. ''This was an overwhelming experience.''
Chris Patron, a non-Indian attendee who was drawn in by the music of Bloodline, said he and his girlfriend didn't know anything about the Longest Walk II, but the ceremony inspired them to learn more.
''I'll be reading up about it online,'' Patron said. ''I feel like I have a lot to learn.''
More information about the Longest Walk II is available online at www.longestwalk.org.