By Darrin Mortenson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 14 March 2008
Beale Springs, Arizona - When northwestern Arizona's Hualapai
Indians got in the way of the Anglos' westward expansion in the
1860's, US soldiers rounded them up, penned them in and forced
survivors to march some 100 miles across the desert to a reservation
far from white commerce.
"We became strangers to our own land," said Loretta Jackson, the
tribe's current director of cultural resources, who says the tribe
now suffers a scourge of alcoholism and health issues, encroachment
from rampant development and invasions of their sacred sites.
It's a story familiar to Native American tribes across the
continent, and one of many such stories now getting a fresh hearing
as activists of the American Indian Movement once again take the
"Longest Walk" across the nation from Alcatraz, California, to
Washington, DC, visiting the Hualapai and other tribes and
spotlighting Indian and environmental issues as they go.
Traveling in two groups - a northern band of some 40 hardy souls
now entering snowy Colorado, and a southern group of about 100
trekking across the Arizona desert near the Grand Canyon - the
activists struck out from San Francisco on foot on February 11 and
say they hope to reach the nation's capital on July 11. Once in
Washington, they plan to deliver Congress a "manifesto" relating what
they learn from tribes and other Americans they meet along the way.
"We're messengers," said Larry Bringing Good, a 53-year-old
former US Marine and long-time Indian activist. "Our message is that
all life is sacred."
Bringing Good, a tall, dark Cheyenne-Arapaho native of Oklahoma,
was among members of the southern group this week who met with
delegates of the Peach Springs Hualapai reservation near the town of
Kingman, Arizona. Their roadside camp in a dirt lot behind the local
American Legion post was rustled awake at 4 a.m. by drumming and
chanting of Japanese Buddhist monks who march with the group. After
breaking camp, they gathered to hear Hualapai elder Emmett Bender
bless that day's leg of the journey before they moved on foot toward
the Grand Canyon.
"You know what I want to see? I want to see everyone dance,"
said the 85-year-old Bender in a shaky voice, obviously moved by the
visit and the chance to share his tribes' concerns with the walkers.
"Just like Martin Luther King, we'll walk like brothers and sisters," he said.
Shaking a gourd to an ancient beat, Bender led a short
traditional song before the walkers headed east on Highway 40. From
there they walked about 15 miles, a distance boosted to about 100 by
a select group of "spirit runners" who relay the estimated 100-plus
miles a day that both groups try to log so that there is a "footprint
on every mile," as one of the walkers put it.
In spirit at least, "Longest Walk 2" is a commemorative
reenactment of the first "Longest Walk" in 1978, at the height of the
American Indian Movement's strength and notoriety, when the
then-militant AIM and its leaders topped the FBI's
counterintelligence agenda. As thousands converged on Washington that
summer as they completed the 4,000-mile trip, the original group
managed to garner enough moral momentum on its journey to help defeat
legislation that would have further eroded Indian control of their
reservations, and they helped push legislation protecting Indian rights.
Dennis Banks, a founding member of AIM who served time in a
federal prison in the 1980's for his part in protests during AIM's
violent heyday the previous decade, led the original walk in 1978. At
75, he now leads the southern group quietly and without warrior
bluster or revolutionary rhetoric. With him as guide, the journey
seems less a protest march and more of an educational tour that takes
in all comers of all colors; at each stop they learn a little and
teach a little as they meet with locals and then move on. They also
pick up hundreds of bags of other people's roadside trash along the way.
Banks and other leaders say the support and newcomers they've
received along the way have confirmed that their simple and ancient
message resonates across the land. So far, they've been invited to
stay at private ranches, local campgrounds, temples, gymnasiums and
Indian reservations, and have attracted curious locals at each stop.
Among them are Curt Warren, 71, and his wife Jean, non-Indian
residents of Golden Valley, Arizona, who said they saw the walkers
along the Colorado River near Bullhead City, Arizona, and stopped to
"We got to talking about taking care of the earth and all that,"
said Curt Warren, "and the more we talked, the more I got to
thinking. And I said 'yeah, this is what I believe anyway.' They're
right and they're gettin' out there and doin' something about it."
Not able to walk with the group, the Warrens helped out by
shuttling some of the activists around to meet with local tribal leaders.
"We're a moving community," said Emmett Eastman, 76, a tall,
silver-haired Wahpeton native who has traveled with Banks and other
AIM leaders for decades and has strode the trail of the "Longest Walk
2" since it left Alcatraz. Translating his native name as "His Many
Lightnings," Eastman said he wants America to listen to their message.
"Take care of your health. Take care of your environment. Pick
up your trash," he said while slurping down a juicy orange at a brief
rest stop this week. "The message we're carrying for the country, for
the world, really, is that yellow, red, black and white, we're all
involved; so get involved! And we want to plant the seed in the minds
of the governments to be peaceful, not warrior-like."
After forming a circle and chanting a prayer led by a Buddhist
monk, Eastman and some 45 of his cohorts were blessed by a medicine
man burning a sage stalk and then stepped out again along the highway
shoulder, some of the group beating drums and others holding
feathered staffs in the lead. They and their logistical caravan of
cars, vans and a converted school bus that serves as their chuck
wagon are heading to the Grand Canyon this week to meet with members
of the Havasupai reservation. From there they'll go to Flagstaff for
a week-long series events meant to attract Native Americans and
environmental activists from the whole region.
Compared with the group traveling the northern route through
snow-covered Utah, they've had it relatively good. The 30-40 men and
women on that northern route, which more accurately retraces the
original 1978 route, have struggled through snow and steep mountain
passes but should reach Colorado in a few days.
Still, those walking in short sleeves through the Arizona desert
this week say the trek takes dedication and heart, and they hope more
people will join them for the journey.
"I knew this was a sacred walk and a spiritual walk," said
59-year-old Margaret Morin, a Chumash native and grandmother who
closed up her apartment in Bakersfield and put her things in storage
to make the journey.
"I had to come. It was a calling," she said. "Every step we take
is a prayer."
More information on the Longest Walk 2 can be found at