Editor's Note: The Longest Walk 3 - Reversing Diabetes will conclude in Washington on Friday, July 8. The message the Longest Walk is a powerful one: American Indians are suffering from diabetes at epidemic rates.
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 feature is from an excerpt from "Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk Reader"(Fulcrum Publishing - 2010). The feature was written by Mr. Mohawk during the summer of 1978 after he participated in a portion of the Longest Walk.
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Longest Walk 3. Discussion »
They formed an impressive line. There were twenty-four people in all, young men and women, and older people. They were dressed in their traditional dress. It had been explained to us that some of the older people did not speak English. The occasion was historic-for the first time, a group of Navajo people had come to Onondaga to a Six Nations Council.
An older woman spoke and introduced herself. She spoke through an interpreter, a younger woman who spoke flawless English. She said that she was very happy to have been able to visit our country. Then she said that where she came from they were told that there were no Indians to the east of the Mississippi.
“I didn't even know there were any Indians at all here,”
she said. "But now I know." People laughed. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly.
"We came here from the Longest Walk," one of the younger woman said. "Our elders have come with us. My grandmother here," she said, pointing out one of the older women, "when she first joined the walk she saw that the people were running. So she ran too! In fact, we couldn't even catch up with her. She ran a couple of miles!" Everyone laughed. The older woman laughed too.
A young, powerful-looking man in a huge cowboy hat stepped forward to speak. "We are called Navajo by the non-Indians," he said. "But we do not call ourselves Navajo. That name was given to us by the Spanish. We call ourselves Diné, which means 'the people.' That is who we are." The people gathered in the longhouse nodded.
We were camped in a park in Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. The place was a large field, and around the edges of the field were pitched tents and tipis and a few army tents. The Maryland National Guard was there, administering field kitchens. The water supply was in military water tanks, which were mounted on small trailers. The national guard people ran the camp stoves and pretty much maintained a low profile.
It was one of those hot, sunny days, and the people were fathered in a great circle to discuss their problems. Vernon Bellecourt had called the assembly. "We want the people to gather around here," he said, "so that we can discuss our problems. We want the people to speak out, to tell us what is happening. That's what we are here for."
Various people were introduced, a pipe was passed among the people who had led and participated in much of the walk. A few speeches were made. The people sat on the ground patiently, listening, watching.
Late in the afternoon, one of the Diné came forward to speak. "My grandmother has a few words she would like to say," he said. Then an older woman came forward. She was dressed, as they all dressed in the colorful clothing of her culture. She wore a great squash-blossom necklace."
"Where we live," she said, "the United States government is interfering in our affairs. The say that there is an argument between the Hopi people and the Diné people, but there is no argument among us. The argument has begun because of the interference of outsiders, of non-Indians."
"Now they are coming and telling me that I have too many sheep and that I must get rid of some of my sheep. And they are saying that we must sell or move away from our homes. Without my sheep and without my house, where will I go? What will I do? What will become of me?" There was silence after she spoke.
That night, we went to the Diné camp. They had a fire and had cooked mutton stew, good mutton stew, and fired bread. Roberta Black Goat stood alone at the edge of the light. She is an older, very soft-spoken woman. She speaks English.
"Some of the white people came to my house and they asked me how I felt about selling and moving away," she said. "I told them I was against it. They said I was the first one they had talked to who said they didn't want to sell."
She folded her arms in front of her.
"I told them I wasn't interested in selling. I told them that it is the same with us as it is when you have an old tree, and it is in your way. If there is a beautiful old tree, and you dig it up and move it, do you think it will continue to live? Even if you do everything you can to prepare new ground for it, do you think that old tree will live? No, it won't live. And it is the same way with us. When they move us away, we will die.
"I won't take even one dime for my home. That house is not simply a house. That house was made with our prayers. When we built that house, we prayed every step of the way. It is more than a house. It holds our ways. I won't take any money for my house because it doesn't really belong to me. There are many prayers and songs in that house-it means more than money.
"When I talked to those people, what I said got back to the newspaper, and my family came out from the city and they said, 'Boy, Grandma sounds really mad this time.' So I told them that I wasn't going to sell because of them, that someday they will realize that they need land, and I don't want them to say that they have no place to go because their grandmother sold it."
We were gathered on a Friday night just outside of Washington DC, in Greenbelt Park. We were over near the Lakota camp. It was a hot night, and it was very late. Russell means was speaking.
"We have talked to the people at the White House," he said, "and they tell us that President Carter is in Europe this week and that he won't get back until Wednesday or so. When he does get back, he'll have a lot of work to catch up on, and they tell us that he won't be able to see us."
A man standing nearby said, "When he gets to Germany, some people will demonstrate there. While he talks about human rights in the Soviet Union, they will tell him to go home and talk to the Longest Walk."
"Carter won't see us," Means continued, "but Mondale is going to meet with us after he's been briefed on Wednesday."
"Carter doesn't want to talk to us," someone else said. "He doesn't know anything about Indians anyway."
"I know it against our usual ways," Russell said, "but they want a list of the names of the people who will be meeting with Mondale. They need that list fairly soon."
One of the Diné people stepped forward. "My grandmother wants to speak. I will translate."
An older woman stood. She said that she and her people have walked for months and that they came here for a meeting with Carter. She said she was in no hurry and that she and her group would be willing to wait. She felt that the Indian delegations should meet with both Mondale and Carter at the same time and suggested that they could stay at the park until they were granted a meeting.
Quite a few people agreed, but it was clear that Means didn't expect to see Carter.
It was nearly 2:30 am, and there would be prayers at dawn.
The Native News Network was granted permission to publish this excerpt and will do so in two parts.
posted July 4, 2011 3:00 pm et
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