May 10, 2008
EDWARDSVILLE, Illinois – The International Indian Treaty Council and
the Longest Walk focused on human rights as inherent rights of
Indigenous Peoples, as the walkers arrived for prayers at Cahokia
Mounds and the St. Louis Arch, the gateway to the west.
For the Longest Walkers on the northern route, it was the gateway to
the east, marking the completion of three-fourths of their sacred
walk for Mother Earth. Walkers left Alcatraz Island on Feb. 11 and
will arrive in Washington D.C. on July 11. Of the 3,600-mile trek,
only 860 miles remain.
Speaking during the human rights forum at Southern Illinois
University on May 9, Andrea Carmen, executive director of the
International Indian Treaty Council, described the evolution of this
new era of Indigenous Peoples rights.
Carmen recalled the words of survivors of the Massacre of Wounded
Knee, shared by one of the Lakota. The words of the survivor were:
"The spirits were waiting for someone to stand up for them, someone
to make it right."
Carmen said when the Means brothers, Bill, Ted and Russell Means,
took a stand and the American Indian Movement emerged in South
Dakota, they took a stand to make things right for those massacred at
Then, the International Indian Treaty Council was formed on Standing
Rock in 1974 and later gained consultative status at the United Nations.
"It started with the spirits needing someone to stand up for them,"
Carmen told those gathered at the university Religious Center.
Carmen pointed out that there were four countries of colonizers who
voted against the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples: the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The
first three of those countries have entered into treaties with
Indigenous Peoples. However, Australia has already expressed regret
for failing to support the Declaration, which was adopted by the U.N.
General Assembly on Sept. 13, 2007.
Carmen pointed out that the Declaration recognizes the inherent
rights of Indigenous Peoples, inherent rights that can not be given
or taken away. Indigenous rights can be violated, she said, but they
can not be taken away.
Carmen said the denial of rights causes conflict, but the recognition
of rights does not. The passage of the Declaration of the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples did not come without a struggle. There was a
hunger strike and a walkout during negotiations before the ultimate
passage in 2007.
Indigenous Peoples now have the right to free, prior and informed
consent before their lands are contaminated, developed or destroyed.
"Why shouldn't we have a veto on something that will destroy us, kill
us and destroy our rights," Carmen said. The Declaration also ensures
that Indigenous children have the right to be educated in their own
Native language and culture.
Recently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination told the United States that even though the United
States did not vote for passage of the Declaration, the US is bound
to abide by the Declaration and use it as the standard to measure
whether the U.S. is upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Referring to the Declaration, which ensures the right to self
determination, Carmen said, "We have to use it. We have to apply it.
"This is not the ceiling, this is the floor. Now we have a floor to stand on."
Carmen said she had just returned from Sonora, Mexico, where her
people are the victims of the banned pesticides which the United
States continues to export. Those pesticides have resulted in deaths,
cancer and birth defects. The Rio Yaqui communities are among two
areas in the world where women have given birth to "jelly babies,"
babies born without bones. The other area is the South Pacific where
nuclear testing has been carried out.
Speaking on the right of Indigenous Peoples to food, and the need for
sustainable agriculture, Carmen said, "The United States is the only
country that does not believe that the basic right to food is a human
right. The U.S. is the only country that has that position," Carmen
said referring to the U.S. stance at the United Nations.
Lenny Foster: Walking into the future
Lenny Foster, Dine' board member of the International Indian Treaty
Council, was one of the original Long Walkers of 1978. Foster
recalled hitchhiking to Alcatraz Island in 1969 and how it changed his life.
"When we're young, we're idealistic; we want to make things happen.
It became a spiritual journey for me."
Referring to the words and enthusiasm of Southern Ute Adriano
Buckskin, 19, on the Longest Walk 2, Foster said, "I rejoice in the
youth and I say, 'Be idealistic.'"
Foster also spoke of the reasons for the Longest Walk 2. "What we are
concerned about is saving Mother Earth. We are all concerned about
that." Foster said all people want clean water, clean air and clean
earth, but the contamination continues.
Foster said now, more than ever, Native people have the
responsibility to be stewards of the earth.
Foster described the birth of the American Indian Movement and the
reasons for its creation. "The government put in 'puppets' as tribal
leaders." In South Dakota, the Oglala could no longer live under
those conditions. Then, with the buildup of large numbers of FBI and
other federal agents on Pine Ridge, Lakota and their allies began to
assert their rights. The result was the 71-day siege at Wounded Knee.
"The whole world took notice of Indian people," Foster said.
The stronghold of Wounded Knee in 1973 was a result of the 1890
massacre of elders and children at Wounded Knee. "The Calvary brought
in their canons. It was a massacre."
Foster recalled the 11 firefights at Wounded Knee in 1973, with US
agents shooting at the young people there. For him, it was a matter
of life and death. Although there were many arrests, there were also
many sweat lodge ceremonies held there, he said.
"The Lakota headsmen saw that this would not end there." Foster said
the Lakota headsmen asked that the treaties and the sacred pipes be
taken to the international arena. Now, the International Indian
Treaty Council is the political arm of the American Indian Movement.
The Longest Walk and the American Indian Movement changed history.
"It elevates our awareness of who we are. For so long we have been
colonized and brainwashed." Foster recalled that before the 1970s,
few people wore long hair, carried medicine bags, wore ribbon shirts
and knew the songs. However, after gaining a voice in the
international arena, there was a new era of American Indian rights.
Foster said Navajos view mankind as "Five finger people."
"It doesn't matter what color."
Foster is currently a spiritual leader in U.S. prisons and serves
American Indian inmates. His youngest client is 12 years old, in a
juvenile facility, and the oldest is 80 years old.
"I've handled three death row cases and witnessed one execution of a
Native American. Once they've served the document of execution,
there's no turning back." Foster can administer the last rights to
those on death row with the sweat lodge and the pipe ceremony.
Although one prison in Florence, Arizona, did allow Foster to
administer last rites, U.S. prison officials have refused to allow
Native ceremonies to be offered as last rites. Foster described the
absurd claims of some prison officials that ceremonies would be used
as a means for escape. "That is absurd. There's a lot of racism."
When prison officials told Foster he would have to submit to a strip
search in order to administer last rites, Foster asked the prison
officials, "Did you make the Catholic priest strip down when he came
in to administer the last rites?"
Prison officials made other claims about the ceremonies. "They say,
'When you let the Indian boys sing, they get 'riled up.'"
Tobacco has been restricted for inmates' ceremonies with the
assertion that prisons are "smoke free environments." Foster has
pressed for prisons to grant an exemption for the use of tobacco in
the pipe ceremony. He said the ceremonies give the people hope.
"We are not a throwaway society. We love our people. We have the
right to sing our songs; we have the right to have our ceremonies. We
are the original people of this land.
"We want our Indian Nations to heal. Foster said prisoners are denied
the right to a spiritual healing when their rights to Native
spiritual ceremonies are denied.
"That is what it is all about, spiritual healing."
Foster praised the walkers for their sacrifices on the Longest Walk.
He said it is important to pray and offer corn pollen as they walk
east. He encouraged the walkers to rely on prayers, sweat lodges and
traditional teachings to give hope to the people.
Foster said that he visited Leonard Peltier in federal prison in
Lewisburg, Penn., two weeks ago. "He sends his love, his respect and
his solidarity. He is glad that this is happening. We know we are
When the northern route walks through Pennsylvania in June, Peltier
hopes some of the walkers will visit him in prison.
"It would make him feel very good about what is happening out here."
Foster said sovereignty was given to the people by the Creator and it
is important to act and think as sovereigns.
Foster said the place of origin of Navajos or Dine' is Dinetah, in
what is now called northern New Mexico. Although scientists claim
Navajos came to this land across the Bering Strait, Foster said they
did not. Anthropologists are "just trying to justify the stealing of
history," he said.
Foster said the Longest Walkers represent clans and families from all
over. Maori, Mohawk, Paiute, Navajos, Choctaw and the others are
representing Indian people and all of mankind.
"The Indian Movement is a beautiful place to be."
Southern Utes: Kenny Frost and Adriano Buckskin
Kenny Frost, Southern Ute, said when the 1978 Longest Walk began it
was because American Indian rights were being threatened. "The walk
that you are doing carries the prayers of our elders."
Frost said the walkers are part of the historic legacy of the Longest
Walk. He pointed out that the walkers have only 869 miles left of the
3,600 mile journey, after walking over the Sierra Nevadas and Rocky Mountains.
"Give yourselves a big hand. What you are doing, you should be proud
of. You are carrying the prayers and purpose of protecting sacred
sites. You are carrying the prayer and purpose that we have not faded
away, that we are still alive and well."
Weldon Austin, Paiute/Shoshone from Fallon, Nevada, said he is
walking for the prisoners, the men and women who would be on this
walk if they could.
"A lot of them would give their right arm to be here." Austin
remembered the children who visit their parents in prison and the
Indian children in foster homes.
"When we get to Washington, every prison will have a sweat when we
present our staffs as offerings."
Adriano Buckskin, 19, Southern Ute from Colorado, said, "I walk for
everyone." Buckskin said he walks for people who are in pain, people
who are in prisons and the youths who are entrenched in the society
of television and distractions.
"I would die for my people. I am very happy and very honored to be here."
Buckskin said before he joined the walk, he had never been east of
Pueblo, Colorado. Everything now is a first time for him, a new and
"Each day, I can say this is the first time I woke up here."
Buckskin said there should be many more youths walking. He recalled
asking a young Native if he was proud to be Native. The young man
said 'No, because it is boring."
Buckskin said some Native youths find being Native is boring because
they glamorize what they are seeing on television. Many, too, are
"deceived by the trick of emotions."
Buckskin said he had dreams of what he is now experiencing on the
Longest Walk. He hopes to inspire others, particularly the youths,
with what he is feeling here.
Buckskin said the Red Road has no end. "The Red Road doesn't ever stop."
"I'm walking in my father's shoes. He walked on the first walk. When
I walk, I see unity. We need to unite and step up and get things
done." Buckskin said he feels good to be walking with the walkers.
"You make me proud to be Native."
Michael Lane: Walking for true tribal sovereignty
Michael Lane, Menominee and one of the original walkers in 1978,
said, "We are walking to protect sacred sites and protect tribal
sovereignty." Lane arrived from New Zealand and joined the Longest
Walk with his wife Sharon Heta, Maori/Tuhoe Nation, and their three
children, Merehuka, Ranguitau and TeRuihi.
Lane said sovereignty is much more than defending casinos.
Describing the walk in 1978, he said, "We walked to protect tribal
sovereignty. We walked as sovereign people." During the original
walk, he said, walkers viewed the land they camped on as the
sovereign land of the Longest Walk.
Lane said the walkers should not be intimidated by police who attempt
to tell them where they can walk. "If we give in to them, we lose
sight of who we are."
Lane said he is not focused on meeting with US elected officials when
he reaches Washington D.C. "We are not going to be lobbying US
senators and Congressmen, we don't give a hoot what they say."
Pointing out the need for the walk to protect tribal sovereignty, he
said the abrogation of treaties continues as does genocide under the
cloak of manifest destiny. He said the attempt to abrogate treaties
never ceased. Today it continues in the form of offering money for
Indian land or demanding waivers of sovereignty to build casinos.
The efforts of termination of Indian Nations continues in new forms.
"All of their standards are to divert us into corporations."
Walking with the staffs, walking for healing at White Clay
Tomas Reyes, Yaqui, explained the sacred staffs carried by the
Longest Walkers. The eagle feathers and sacred items on the staffs
were offered as the walkers passed through communities in California,
Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. Reyes said he has
learned humility and what it means to be a man and be respectful.
Reyes said he continues to learn.
Referring to the four sacred colors, red, black, white and yellow, he
said, "They represent the four colors of humankind." Those four
colors also refer to the past of Indigenous Peoples.
"That is our future.
"All people, no matter where they are, are indigenous to some places
on this earth, this planet." On this continent, he said, "For
Indigenous Peoples, this is our place of origin.
"I believe we are walking for all Indigenous Peoples across this
continent." Reyes said he grew up with the teaching that one should
be on his best behavior when in someone else's home. However, now
people are in the home of Indigenous Peoples, this land, and treat it
"Our people lived a spiritual existence here."
Reyes, taking care of the staffs since the walkers left Alcatraz,
said the Long Walkers have shown great commitment and sacrifice to reach here.
"We need a broad perspective. All of us matter."
Charles Yellow Bird, from Pine Ridge, S.D., spoke of White Clay,
Nebraska, a town comprised of a few alcohol stores, where many Lakota
die. Yellow Bird said in this poor area, the white people are
"Who is paying for it? The lives of the Lakota. We are making them
rich." Yellow Bird remembered the Nebraskans for Peace and how they
would put their lives on the line for the people. He also remembered
the people who are "hacked up" in racial violence in South Dakota and
Nebraska and how tribal police are placed between white officers and
Lakota. Native officers are forced to face off with Native people.
"If anyone was going to get hurt, they wanted us to hurt one another.
"Before I leave this earth, I want to see White Clay off the face of
this map, off the face of this earth." Yellow Bird said we are now
faced with the loss of water and the ozone is destroying our skin.
"We are killing ourselves.
"How do you treat your mother?
"This is your mother, you are walking on her. Treat her with respect."
Andrea Carmen said there will come a time when Indian people will
have to turn to the traditional Indian people in their communities to survive.
Carmen relayed a story from an Indigenous woman in South America. She
told of a mountain lion whose cubs were nursing. As the mother lion
became thirsty, she tried to shake herself loose from the pups. The
mother lion tried to gently push them away, but the cubs became
greedy and began eating her flesh. Finally, desperate, the mother
lion slapped the pups away with a great swipe of the paw and killed them.
The Indian woman said this story tells us the story of Mother Earth,
as mankind acts with greed. "They are eating and eating and not
replenishing Mother Earth."