Imagine RUNNING from San Francisco to Washington, DC. Lacing up your shoes, packing a suitcase for the support van, trying to decide how many pairs of socks, t-shirts and wind wickers you might actually need. Would you run 4,000 miles for the one you loved? Through rain? Up mountains? In snow? What would motivate you to make such a journey?
These 30 Native American people have committed to exactly that kind of demanding experience:
As of this post, they are on the fifteenth day of a planned 153 day trek across the country. These runners and walkers will cross twelve states, eighteen mountain ranges and touch down in 54 tribal communities. Why are these Native Americans doing this? Because they are pursuing the message and solidarity to help end drug abuse and curtail the domestic violence plaguing our Native communities. They journey because sobriety and safety matter to these Native people and they believe that with each prayerful step they take, each hand they shake, and each community they break bread with, they help realize a magnanimous vision to heal Indian Country.
This is not the first time this has happened. The Longest Walk, as this journey is called, was established in 1978 by the American Indian Movement (AIM), when 40,000 Native people and their allies marched from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to “The Native American Equal Opportunity Act”, a bill that would have terminated the treaties of all sovereign Native nations with the United States, obliterating Native ownership of land and the rights to hunt, fish, and practice tribal sovereignty. The bill failed, largely because of the attention brought from the activism of The Longest Walk.
Since then, there have been four more walks. In 2008, The Longest Walk 2, “All Life is Sacred” focused on the protection of sacred sites on tribal land. In 2011, The Longest Walk 3, “Reversing Diabetes”, highlighted the diabetes epidemic in Indian Country. In 2014, participants walked back from D.C. to Alcatraz in San Francisco to educate Americans about the history of the American government’s illegal and forcible removals of Native peoples from their homelands. Last year in 2016, The Longest Walk 5 to “End Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence” began its cross-country tour from San Diego to the nation’s capital. This same theme continues this year because the campaign’s organizers understood deeply understand its importance to Native American families. In 2015, Dennis Banks, one of the principal organizers of this event, laid to rest his beloved granddaughter Rose Downwind, her life cut short tragically from domestic violence. Her family reported her missing in October, but it wasn’t until December that the perpetrator led authorities to the shallow grave he’d placed her in outside Bemidji, Minnesota. The man is now in prison for manslaughter. Although he remains behind bars, the family feels a strong need to raise awareness of the relationship between drug abuse and domestic violence and take prayerful action to heal families who have known similar pain.
We asked several runners why they decided to join The Longest Walk 5.2, their responses are deeply moving:
Autumn Campbell, Sissiton, Whapeton
I’m here because I was in a really dark place in my life - I basically tried to kill myself, but my mom found me … I felt really bad about that. I didn’t know what else to do, so I prayed, and then things started happening and I ended up on the walk last year. I joined them half way. I walked from the beginning of April until July 15th . It changed my life. All I know is that it gets better.
Simon R. Jones, Di’ne
Today we are going to be running 60 miles in the rain and it’s a blessing. Running in the rain is the most gifted thing you can have. Yeah there’s pain, there’s suffering, there’s a lot of danger on the road, but as long as we stay prayerful, we’ll be okay. Each mile, each step is a prayer. That’s part of this journey, that’s what it’s about, and it’s a blessing that I’m thankful for.
Chief Good Wolf Kindness, Oneida/Mohawk
This is my ninth time joining the Walk. I never give up the fight. I never give up the struggle. We do this for all people because all life is sacred. I am going to continue to do my part because knowledge is power and we have to get that knowledge out there. Also, I’d really like to say, save the bees please. If the bees go, we don’t have that much longer. Let’s look out for the bees.
Linda Oscena, Moshika/Yaqui
I became politically active in the early nineties, in the Chicano movement, and worked with some really great people that were really active in the 70’s. As the years went on and I became more spiritually awakened, and I decided to work spiritually - I am early on in this spiritual work- I spent the early part of my work attempting to find out who I am. In so doing, I learned a lot about human beings as a whole and how to help heal their past so they can live a more full, happy and peaceful life, so we can move forward in a good way. Now I consider myself a spiritual activist. I do healing work, counseling. We all have light within us and the more we heal, the more able we are to radiate our light to others. Sometimes we just need to shine our light wherever we are, so that light can touch everybody. So I don’t necessarily need to be on the front lines doing work. Just being here, talking with people, letting them share their stories with us, that’s doing work.
Bobby Wallace, National Chief of the Longest Walk 5.2, Barona Band of Mission Indians
We don’t need to be scared. We can call for an end to drug abuse and domestic violence. We can put an end to prejudice. We are all the same people. We all bleed red.
Melissa Hill, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, Dine and Seneca
I didn’t expect it to hit me like this to be honest. Every one here is sober living, living a good life, they share their stories, they share what they’ve been through, they share their hurt, their pain. Whenever I started running yesterday, the pain that I felt running, it just reminded me of those who cannot run, it reminded me of the children. I thought about my nieces and my family the whole time I was running. I thought about my life, I thought about it while I was riding back to this gym here in Pomo territory. I was running for my life. Running to save it. In a sense it did save me, this walk. And I hope to come back to it.
The faith and strength of the participants in the Longest Walk are part of the renewed unity and power of Native America. The Walk is a transformative physical and spiritual approach to healing and reaching others, and its example and energies are drawing Native peoples together in purpose and enlightenment. Although such awakening has been foretold in our many cultures, we are nonetheless honored to witness and share this experience that is changing individual lives and uplifting Native America as a whole.