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 »
The final leg of the Longest Walk came on Saturday. We were a little late getting started. Someone ran through the camps announcing that there was to be a bus ride first, then a twelve mile walk into Washington. The buses were about a mile from the farthest camp area.
As we walked towards the buses, it became obvious that the trees hid from view a much larger camp that was generally visible. Down the long paths they came, people from the northern Great Plains, the Pacific Northwest, the deserts, and the woodlands of the East. As we walked toward the park entrance, the trickle of people became a steady stream, then a river. It was obvious that there were a lot of people. We walked quietly. There were white people, and black people. And Indians. All kinds of Indians.
A woman ahead asked, "The first thing," he said, "is that we take part in the Hottest Walk into the city, Then we're supposed to go to a park in the middle of town where there is a rally."
“And what about after the walk?”
She asked. "What do you think will come of it?" Even after we go there and we tell them about what we want, that we want our rights? What do you think will happen then?"
“The Longest Wait,”
We kept walking. The buses came into view, and a large crowd of people. There was a row of buses to the right. We went that way. They were all filled. We came back. More buses came. They were parked at a roadway entrance, and they stretched out as far as you could see in either direction. We walked to the back of the row of buses. They were mostly filled.
The buses stopped somewhere outside of Washington, and people lined up along the side of the road. There was an organization period while some instructions were passed, and finally after maybe twenty minutes, people began lining up behind the banners that had been brought for the purpose. The final part of the journey was under way. There were quite a few banners-survival schools, nations, regions. Security tried to keep the people four abreast.
A group of Buddhist brought up the rear. They were from Japan. Their heads were shaved. Someone said that they marched in support of peace. They had walked from California. They were dressed in orange robes, and they were highly disciplined. As the day's walk began, their drums set the cadence.
As we started over that first mile or two, I could see the banner that led the march. It was perhaps a hundred yards in front of us, the Buddhists maybe eighty or so yards behind us.
From the beginning, as we walked, people came out of their homes or stood along the sidewalk to watch. Soon the streets were lined with onlookers. It was hot. The people at the front of the procession carried pipes, the people at the rear carried drums. It was, if nothing else, one very colorful procession.
People lined the sidewalks. The hot Washington sun turned the street into a frying pan, and the humidity was oppressive to people from different parts of the continent. Some people were carrying babies.
As we neared the city limits, the crowds thickened. People seemed to stop work to come to the street to watch. By that time, the front banner was more than two hundred yards ahead. The crowd was swelling. Bit by bit, Indian people joined in from the sidelines. People with cameras and new crews with videotape equipment walked alongside the crowds. Security tried to keep the marchers in line.
As we entered Washington, we heard a man singing alongside the road. It was Grandfather David from the Hopi Nation. He was singing his song, and he danced, and he couldn't go on. He stopped and cried. He couldn't go on.
The streets were emptied of traffic as we entered what was clearly a black section of the city. The previous night someone mentioned that today we would be walking through their country. Their area of Washington, we were told, is more than 90 percent African American. We had received nothing but hospitality from the black organizations. In 1972, when the BIA occupation took place, the only accommodations offered to Indian people came from a black church in one of the poorest parts of the city.
The black community stretched for miles. Longest Walk posters were in many shop windows and on some of the masonry walls. People came outside to watch.
The Indian movement and the black movement had not communicated well over the years. Black people who are conscious of their own oppression are sympathetic, but whenever the question of cooperation is raised, someone is always able to bring up a long list of differences between our peoples. Every atrocity committed in history was committed against both of our peoples, and those atrocities continue today. Black people have been the major target of the sterilization programs of the US institutions. It could be that we have more in common than we generally acknowledge. And today, Native people are headed for Malcolm X Park.
As we walked down Sixteenth Street, more people joined the march. There was a standing crowd on both side of the street now, and an increasing police visibility. People rushed ahead with jugs in their hands and full water jugs passed through the crowd. Others came with bags of ice. Soon we were passing what were clearly office buildings and institutes.
We turned down one of the large streets heading towards Malcolm X Park. By that time the banner in front was close to three hundred yards ahead. We walked slowly.
Somewhere in front, a drum started. It was the American Indian Movement anthem. Overhead was the sound of a helicopter, passing back and forth over the tops of the trees. In the rear, one could hear the sound of the chanting monks and their drums-ONE TWO THREE FOUR, one two. It was an incredible mixture of sounds. A woman next to me said something, but I couldn't hear her over the din.
I looked to the rear, but at that time, the end of the line, which now stretched behind the Buddhists, was not in sight. We saw the front of the line disappear around the corner, and many more people joined in the walk. We came down through the center of the city, and increasingly curious mixture of people, a spectacle never before seen even in this, the most jaded city in the world. We didn't see the front of the line again until we reached the park.
There was something about that walk that people who were there will never forget. The sound of the drums and the song of the northern plains, a rallying song now for all of the Indian people of North America, mixed with the chants and the drums of a Buddhists people most of us had never seen before. And overhead, the helicopter.
People came out to the streets, non-Indians, and applauded. Many stood alongside with their fists raised at first, but the line was so long that they couldn't hold the pose long enough for even a fraction of the people to return the salute.
Somehow the significance of it all began to take on a new perspective on that hot summer day in Washington. I remembered reading a journalist's report, filled with more than five years ago, in reaction to a news story that Richard Oakes had been shot to death in California by a YMCA camp employee. Richard was one of the people who had led the occupation of Alcatraz. The journalist wondered aloud where a movement like this one would go, and he came pretty close to announcing its death with the passing of one of the people who started it all. There were a relative handful of people at Alcatraz-things have changed.
I looked behind me at the crowd. There was a line of people as far as one could see. If he had lived, Richard would have been elated.
People began pointed out a white-haired man who joined the procession. He was walking alongside Vernon Bellecourt. It was Marlon Brando. Muhammad Ali was also there supporting the Indians.
Finally, the people crossed the street and turned into Malcolm X Park. We walked up the center of the grounds of the park. I looked at my watch. We were more than two hours late. The people who came had waited. It was a small park, but it was filled. As the marchers filed in and approached the speaker's platform at the far end of the park there was a great cheer, and then applause. There were a few moments while the sound equipment was made ready. We looked around the park. There were many supporters and many of them were black. We had walked for perhaps three hours. Our destination was to be the Washington Monument.
"Only about two more miles to go," a man nearby said.
"We have a lot further than that to go," another man replied. Then the speeches began.
*In summer 1978, in response to legislation that would abrogate treaties, thousands of Native people marched from California to Washington DC -Ed.
The Native News Network was granted permission to publish this excerpt and will do so in four parts.
posted July 5, 2011 11:52 pm et
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