Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
Levi in Chicago
By the time the Longest Walk 3 - Reversing Diabetes reached Baltimore last Saturday, on the day after the walk officially ended, I had spent 31 days following the American Indian journey across America began its journey on February 14.
It was my first Longest Walk. Along the way, I encountered many people who have participated in previous Longest Walks and other runs with Dennis Banks. Some have participated in every walk and run with Dennis Banks, the co-founder of the American Indian Movement.
Some of these American Indians would seemingly follow the Longest Walk simply because Dennis Banks is leading the walk, regardless of the cause.
Some would walk simply because they are American Indian. One could almost sense the deep sense of commitment to participate because of their Indian-ness.
I discovered along the way, participating in a walk across America is not a mere stroll down a downtown avenue on a holiday for a twenty minute period to honor the memory of a Reverend Martin Luther King or a Cesar Chavez on days set to commemorate their greatness.
It is a grueling experience that involves becoming selfless and humble, because one becomes part of something much larger than one's self. In the case of the Longest Walk, it is for a cause.
My participation with the Longest Walk began when the walk began at LaJolla, California, outside of San Diego on February 14. Then again I joined back up with the southern route in Tucson and traveled with the walk until Window Rock.
Later, I joined the northern route in South Dakota and witnessed the unbelievable poverty that exists there on Indian reservations. Then I later rejoined the northern route as the Longest Walk went through Chicago. Finally, I joined the walk for its final leg by flying into Dulles airport on the Fourth of July and went into Virginia for the entry into Washington, DC on Friday.
I experienced memorable moments along the various segments of the route. While I was along the journey to cover it for this publication, I quickly discovered I was first a Potawatomi Indian, not only a reporter. The Longest Walk was meaningful to me personally as an American Indian.
Being a reporter became secondary when I walked with the Long Walkers. I walked for the memory of my grandfather Levi Whitepigeon, Potawatomi, who died in 1977, two months after our family celebrated our grandparent's golden wedding anniversary. I walked for his memory and my aunt, Norma, who was in the process of dying from diabetes during the first stages of this Longest Walk. She died on the last Tuesday in March. The Longest Walk became progressively much more meaningful to me.
A goose bump moment came when the Longest Walk entered Window Rock, just beyond the tribal headquarters of the Navajo Nation, in the shadow of the window rock structure. The sounds of the drums echoed among walls of the mountains there on a beautiful sunny morning.
Two prideful and memorable moments came as I carried the Prairie Band Potawatomi flag along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago and across the Memorial Bridge in to Washington DC.
A humbling moment was seeing Dennis Banks driving a rented U-Haul pulling a trailer which carried the luggage of the Long Walkers. The truck temporarily solved a transportation problem. Here was the warrior, Dennis Banks, who has fought for countless American Indian rights issues for decades, driving a U-Haul.
Later, that night, I saw him get up in the middle of the night to put a couple logs into a woodstove so the fire would continue to keep the Long Walkers warm.
An Indian moment came back in Arizona at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation when a tribal member came out to greet the Long Walkers, who because of logistical problems had arrived a couple days earlier than planned. She told me that she had told her son she would bring us all to her house and let us camp out on her yard because:
A prideful moment came as the Long Walkers rounded the corner onto Pennsylvania Avenue to make its way directly in front of the White House. Hundreds of summer tourists flashed pictures of the Long Walkers, as if it were the first time they ever saw live Indians in their lives. The Long Walkers formed a circle and performed a water ceremony there, in front of the most powerful residence in the world. American Indians circled up still strong to finish their journey to bring the message to the nation's capital city.
The message of bringing attention to the devastating effects diabetes has on American Indians is a powerful message. Too many American Indians are dying from the contributing factors of diabetes.
While the Longest Walk has ended, the memories and strong message will last a lifetime.
posted July 11, 2011 9:30 am edt
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