Editor's Note: The Longest Walk 3 - Reversing Diabetes, the brain child of Dennis Banks, will conclude in Washington next week on July 8. The message the Longest Walk is a powerful one: American Indians are suffering from diabetes at epidemic rates.
The Longest Walk 3 has been long both in time and distance. It began on Monday, February 14, 2011 with two routes: the northern route that began in Portland, Oregon, led by Chris Francisco, Navajo, and the southern route, which began at the Pacific Ocean at La Jolla, California, just outside San Diego. Dennis Banks, who was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago, is leading the southern route. Some walkers have participated all the way from the west coast to the east coast.
During the upcoming week, the Native News Network will feature special articles on the Longest Walk and the devastating impact diabetes has in Indian Country and to all Americans.
Today's article is a look back on the first Longest Walk that happened in 1978:
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Longest Walk 3. Discussion »
A Turbulent Time
The 1960s and 1970s were turbulent times in America. The Vietnam War, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate caused Americans to question government as never before in the history of the United States. Everyday Americans discovered what American Indians have known forever, as evidenced by hundreds of broken treaties:
The rise of the American Indian Movement and its causes made Americans take a closer look at the treatment of American Indians. With the takeover of the 1972 Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington and the 71 day seize of Wounded Knee the next year, American Indians all of the sudden were "front and center" on people's minds. People discovered the deplorable living conditions that this country's first peoples had to endure.
By 1978, Dennis Banks, one of the co-founders of the American Indian Movement, discovered a new cause: Pending federal legislation was proposed that would severely damage treaty rights for American Indian tribes across the country. At hand were eleven bills before Congress that would have restricted tribal government, limited some hunting and fishing rights and closed Native schools and hospitals.
Banks led the Longest Walk across America. He found people who were willing to take the cause to the streets - literally.
The first Longest Walk was really a pilgrimage of twenty-six American Indians who walked across the country from San Francisco to Washington, DC to bring attention to the eleven bills before Congress. Those who followed Banks became known as Long Walkers.
"We faced horrible conditions. When you get out there - up in the mountains - it is cold, snowy and tough," recalls Paul Owns the Sabre, Lakota, of San Francisco, who was one of the twenty-six Long Walkers who made the trek all across the country, often carrying the flags of their tribal nations. He recalls how money and food were scarce along the route. The Long Walkers camped in tents and braved the harshness of the winter and the severe summer sun.
"It really becomes a spiritual thing. It was not fun and games it became very serious," adds Owns the Sabre.
Owns the Sabre recalls hearing racist terms yelled at the Long Walkers outside of Reno, Nevada. "They did not like the idea Indians were even walking through their town," said Owns the Sabre.
While only twenty-six people embarked on the total length of the walk from San Francisco to Washington, DC, some two-thousand people gathered in the nation's capital city to provide support of the Longest Walk.
Pictured here (left to right) are Muhammad Ali, Buffy St. Marie, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Harold Smith, Stevie Wonder, Marlon Brando, Max Gail, Dick Gregory, Richie Havens, and David Amram at a concert at the end of the Longest Walk
Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando, boxing great Muhammad Ali, Senator Edward Kennedy, and comedian Dick Gregory were among the celebrities who greeted the Long Walkers in Washington, DC and lend their support to the American Indian cause.
"My mom and I went to Washington to see the Longest Walk conclude. We ended working at a church helping people find lodging and food," Nancy Krogmann, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, from Michigan remembers about going to Washington to witness the end of the Longest Walk.
At the end of the Longest Walk, it was reported that upwards of over 100 different American Indian tribes, organizations and churches were there to participate.
"It was amazing to go to the National Mall and see thousands of the Indians from different tribes all there lined up along the reflective pools to support a common cause," continues Krogmann. "Then to see and hear Marlon Brando and Dick Gregory there to support us are memories I will never forget."
In the end, Congress never passed the threatening legislation.
"We walked with many Indian nations to defeat the legislation. We need to keep on the journey going today in the traditions of our people," said Norman "Wounded Knee" DeOcampo, Miwok, who was one of the original 1978 Long Walkers.
updated July 2, 2011 10:23 am edt; posted July 2, 2011 8:00 am edt
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