The Road Begins at the Bottom of Your Feet
The Longest Walk 2 Speaks Out for Mother Earth
by Sandra Cuffe
July 30, 2008
"Being here, at this very moment: it's going to be a moment in your
history that you're going to remember for all time," American Indian
Movement (AIM) leader Dennis Banks told participants of April's
Longest Walk 2 at the Dooda Desert Rock Camp, in the Navajo Nation.
Following in the footsteps of the 1978 AIM Longest Walk for native
rights, on February 11, 2008, the Longest Walk 2 left on a six-month,
4,400-mile walk from Alcatraz Island to Washington, DC. The island,
located off the coast of San Francisco, California, and former site
of the infamous federal prison of the same name, is Ohlone territory
and was the site of an historic re-occupation in 1968.
Thirty years after the original Longest Walk, many of the problems
facing native communities and nations continue. The 2008 Longest Walk
2 is bringing attention to the need to protect Mother Earth against
destructive industries, pollution, and the devastation of sacred
sites. Photo: Julian Jacobs
Thirty years after the original Longest Walk, many of the problems
facing native communities and nations continue. Participants in 2008
are bringing attention to several concerns first raised in 1978, such
as the threatened destruction of sacred sites, including San
Francisco Peaks. This year, the Longest Walk 2 is stressing the need
to protect Mother Earth against destructive industries, pollution and
the devastation of sacred sites.
The Longest Walk 2 includes two main routes: the northern route,
which follows the path marched in the 1978 walk; and the southern
route. Both began in California and they will converge as they near
Washington, which will stage a three-day Cultural Survival Summit.
The Summit will precede the official presentation of a Manifesto for
Change to the government of the United States on July 11, 2008.
The Walk has been traversing the snaking rivers, towering mountain
ranges and winding highways through thunderstorms, blazing heat, snow
and even a tornado.
Dooda Desert Rock Resistance Camp
In the windy desert in the Navajo Nation, the southern route
participants gathered for a couple days at the Dooda Desert Rock
Resistance Camp. 'Dooda' means 'No' in the Navajo language and
references the grassroots resistance campaign against the proposed
Desert Rock coal-fired steam-electric power plant. The Dine Power
Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power are awaiting an air
permit decision from the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA). If
approved, the project would generate air pollution equivalent to 12.5
million cars, according to local Dine ('Navajo') activists.
The EPA has one year to determine whether or not to grant a permit,
according to federal law; however, the application was made in 2004.
At the beginning of June, the EPA filed a consent decree in court
declaring that a decision will be made by July 31, 2008, after
publishing the file and soliciting public comment. At the same time,
however, there has been increasing press coverage about the declining
air quality in the area, largely due to two existing power plants in
the region. According to recent news coverage, San Juan County, New
Mexico, reached the federal standard for maximum ozone levels in
mid-June. An EPA report stated that in the year 2000 alone, the
existing power plants and coal mines in the county released 13
million pounds of toxic chemicals, including sulphur dioxide,
nitrogen oxide and airborne mercury.
Dine elders in the areas most directly threatened began organizing
opposition to the proposed power plant in 2003 and the Dooda Desert
Rock Committee was created in 2004. A resistance camp has been
present near the proposed power plant site for the past few years.
The basis of their opposition includes environmental and health
concerns, but another principal issue is that the proposed site is
immediately adjacent to a sacred burial ground.
"We want to make sure this doesn't happen," said Elouise Brown, a
local Dine community leader at the forefront of the grassroots
resistance to the project. She explained that at the beginning, only
a handful of people were involved and that she was often alone at the
site: "I would just sit there and cry and pray."
Over the last few years, the resistance camp and the campaign have
been receiving visitors and supporters, such as those taking part in
the Longest Walk 2. Brown explained to participants that many others
from neighbouring towns and further afield have also been supporting
the Dooda Desert Rock campaign: "They felt that if this was happening
in their hometown, they wouldn't want it going on."
Dennis Banks explained that he had grown up in a military boarding
school and always dreamed of a military career. When he enlisted and
was serving in Japan, thousands of people would protest the expansion
of a US military base. The US troops would watch as Japanese police
hit people's heads "like coconuts."
"We said they would never win. How could they fight the US
government?" asked Banks, comparing the situation to the one facing
local Dine activists who oppose the proposed Desert Rock power plant.
But in Japan, "they halted. They defeated the US Air Force...Now the
farmland is booming with crops. On that side, the grass and wheat are
growing up through the runways."
Decades after leaving the armed forces and becoming one of the
leaders of the American Indian Movement, Banks spoke from the other
side of the fence, this time the one surrounding the proposed power
plant site. While looking over the spectacular desert in the
direction of the sacred burial ground he said, "This is the way it
should be left, just like this. It's beautiful."
"It's almost asinine that archaeologists, anthropologists, mining
people...come here and tell the ancestral inhabitants that there are
no burial grounds here...Their interest is to grab the land," continued Banks.
"It is being destroyed in the name of economic development, by people
who do not live here or care about the area at all," remarked Don
Lindley, a Dine park ranger working at Mesa Verde in the Four Corners area.
He explained that what is occurring today is not new, but a
continuation of something that's gone on for decades. Interested in
the resources on and in native lands, the US government imposed the
Tribal Council government system in the 1920s. In 1931, despite the
fact that the Great Depression had enveloped the country, the
Livestock Reduction Act was passed and hundreds of cattle belonging
to native people were taken away and killed, or herded away and left
"While the rest of the United States was waiting in line at soup
kitchens, they were over here terrorizing and killing our livestock,"
said Lindley, explaining that from 1931 until 1956, white men working
for the government rode the range enforcing the livestock quota.
Uranium mining has been occurring for decades in the Navajo Nation,
fueling many of the nuclear weapons and nuclear power projects in the
United States. There has been some attention to the plight of the
Dine uranium workers, the affected communities and the alarming
health problems, but instead of working to remedy the existing
situation, the government is granting exploration permits for further
uranium mining activities in the region.
Shortly before the Longest Walk 2's visit to the area, Navajo Nation
Tribal Council President Joe Shirley, Jr. voiced the Navajo Nation's
clear rejection of uranium mining to a Congressional Sub-Committee
hearing in Flagstaff. The April 30 press release addressed the
'Community Impacts of Proposed Uranium Mining Near Grand Canyon
National Park' and quoted Shirley at the hearing:
Today, the legacy of uranium mining continues to devastate both the
people and the land. The workers, their families and their neighbours
suffer increased incidences of cancers and other medical disorders
caused by their exposure to uranium...The mines, many simply
abandoned, have left open scars in the ground with leaking
radioactive waste. The companies that processed the uranium ore
dumped their waste in open-–and in some cases unauthorized-–pits,
exposing both the soil and the water to radiation...The Navajo people
have been consistently lied to by companies and government officials
concerning the effects of various mining activities. Unfortunately,
the true cost of these activities is understood only later, when the
companies have stolen away with their profits leaving the Navajo
people to bear the health burdens.
The Most Bombed Nation On Earth
Just over two months after visiting Dooda Desert Rock and walking
through the Navajo Nation, the Longest Walk 2 participants pressed
onward to the Y-12 National Security Complex, just outside of Oak
Ridge, Tennessee. Managed for the National Nuclear Security
Administration by Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, a
private corporation, the Complex has been using uranium from the
Navajo Nation, among other places, for decades.
According to the sign in front of Y-12:
The Electromagnetic Separation Plant was a Manhattan Project facility
built in 1943 to separate U-235 from U-238. Material for the first
atomic bomb was produced here. In place of unavailable copper, nearly
14,000 tons of silver were borrowed from the US Treasury for use on
the manufacturing equipment. The plant was constructed by Stone and
Webster Engineering and was operated by Tennessee Eastman from 1943-1947.
Some 30 people walked eight miles on a rest day, to the fence at one
of the entrances to the plant. Eleven security officers in uniform
walked down the driveway and watched as the Walk formed a line along
the fence facing Y-12 and stood praying, drumming and chanting.
Participants from different places, including Hiroshima and the
Navajo Nation, shared their prayers with the Walk and the dozen local
peace activists who joined them at the Complex.
"We stand against this plant that represents death and destruction,"
remarked local peace activist Erik Johnson.
Activists involved with the Oak Ridge Peace and Environmental
Alliance have been gathering in front of the Y-12 National Security
Complex to hold a vigil every Sunday evening for the last seven
years. Others have been doing the same every Monday morning for the
past five years.
While most people are aware that the bombs contructed at the Y-12
complex and elsewhere were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan
at the end of the Second World War, very few are aware that literally
hundreds of these bombs have been dropped on a nation much closer to
home. When asked what they think is the most bombed nation on Earth,
most people pinpoint Japan, Vietnam, Germany, Lebanon, England, Iraq,
or other countries. In fact, the most bombed nation on Earth is the
Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada, visited by the northern route of
the Longest Walk 2.
In 1863, during the Civil War, Americans needed safe passage west to
the gold mines in California in order to fund the war. The Treaty of
Ruby Valley, a treaty of peace and friendship with the Western
Shoshone covering 60 million acres, was written and signed that year.
Despite the fact that there was a military camp whose soldiers were
engaging in the murder and rape of Western Shoshone community members
and despite the fact that the translator told the Shoshone that if
they did not agree they would all be shot, the Treaty of Ruby Valley
does not cede any territory.
Over the past 150 years, however, settlers and the US government have
gradually taken over the vast majority of Western Shoshone territory,
leaving only tiny reservations. In 1962, the government of the United
States established that the Western Shoshone had lost their lands
through "gradual encroachment" and a decade later began suing elders
for "trespassing" on their own ancestral lands. In 1979, the Indian
Claims Commission allotted 26 million dollars for 24 million acres of
"lost" Western Shoshone territory; the Western Shoshone did not
accept the money or the unilateral extinguishment of their Treaty rights.
According to Western Shoshone elder and Western Shoshone Defense
Project founder Carrie Dann, 90 per cent of the Treaty of Ruby Valley
is covered by US government claims. Among these is the huge Nellis
Air Force Base in southern Nevada, home to nuclear, biological and
chemical warfare testing. From the 1950s to the present day, there
have been over one thousand nuclear explosions at the Nevada Test
Site, located within Nellis; within Western Shoshone territory.
Underground plutonium testing continues at the base. After September
11, 2001, a new facility for biological and chemical weapons testing
was built on the same base. Plans for the detonation of 700 tons of
explosives with a nuclear atomic warhead detonation device in June
2006 were postponed several times due to massive opposition and were
finally cancelled in July 2007. The exercise at the Nevada Test Site,
named "Divine Strake," would have been the largest open-air chemical
explosion ever carried out by the Pentagon.
Dann recalls the impacts of some of the earlier nuclear tests in the
1970s and particularly after 1976, when "about 10 per cent of the
calf population was deformed in some way or another." Dann also spoke
of the contamination of water in Western Shoshone communities and of
health problems such as leukemia, diabetes and birth defects.
Earth versus Resources
The Western Shoshone, their lands, air and water are also affected by
the intensive open-pit mining activities in their territory. It is
the second biggest gold mining region in the world, with dozens of
companies present, including three of the world's largest gold
corporations: Barrick Gold, Newmont and Goldcorp. Baroid Drilling
Fluids, a subsidiary of the infamous military industry leader
Halliburton, has been mining barite and molybdenum-–a metal used in
steel alloys with diverse military and industrial uses.
The Western Shoshone Defense Project is currently struggling against
Barrick Gold's attempts to expand the Cortez gold mine in Horse
Canyon, an important sacred site for the Western Shoshone. Barrick
announced the gold deposit 'discovery' in February of 2003 as one of
the largest gold deposits in the United States and has been
aggressively attempting to divide and buy the Western Shoshone
communities and leaders in the area.
"These big corporations with billions of dollars-–that's who we're up
against," remarked Larson Bill, a Western Shoshone community leader
and Tribal Council member. "It's kind of amazing that people in the
United States, even the Congressmen, don't know what's going on out
here. They have no clue what's going on."
Faced with some of the most destructive industries on the planet,
such as the military and mining industries, Dann emphasizes the roots
of the struggles of the Western Shoshone in the video 'Our Land, Our
Life: The Struggle for Western Shoshone Land Rights': To a
traditional, indigenous person, land means life. All the things that
you have-–they all come from this Earth. Today, they call those
things resources. Today, those resources are taken in the name of
economy, name of money. Who does that? Multinational corporations.
They don't care. They're not going to be here tomorrow. And what do
these companies care about the children of these children? They don't
care! 'Cause they'll be gone! Soon as they take the resources out,
they will be gone.
Dann also asks all of us if we are prepared "to dedicate ourselves to
the next generations to come. Or are we just ready to accept things
as they are and to hell with tomorrow, to hell with the future
generations? And that is one of the reasons that I try so hard to
protect the rights of indigenous peoples all over the world, because
they're the ones still related to the earth. They're still close to
the earth. And they do care."
These are the questions, issues and struggles to which the Longest
Walk 2 is bringing attention, mile by mile, through reservations,
towns and cities across the country. All along the way-–and from
farther away through the Longest Walk 2 website--people of diverse
nations, colours and countries have been walking along, making
donations, sharing their own histories and situations, and welcoming
the Walk into their nations, communities and homes. The Manifesto for
Change to be presented to the US government is also being compiled
along the walk.
Back at Dooda Desert Rock, Banks insisted that action is the next
necessary step after hearing about or witnessing the ongoing
injustice and destruction: "That should be an obligation. You should
use what you have learned."
"The road begins at the bottom of your feet."
Sandra Cuffe is an independent journalist, activist, and the
descendant of white European settlers.
Posted: June 30, 2008
by: Lisa Garrigues / Today correspondent
Longest Walkers head toward nation's capital
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - ''Wake up! Circle up!'' The shouts rang out in the
pre-dawn Alabama darkness as nearly 100 people began to stir inside
their tents. By 5 a.m., they would be standing in morning circle,
ready to embark on another day of cross-country walking that started
on Alcatraz Island in California Feb. 11 and will end July 11 in
The Longest Walkers are almost there.
Snow, rain, searing heat, blisters, illness, and internal and
external struggles have not dissuaded the 200 walkers on the northern
and southern routes of the Longest Walk II from reaching their
destination, where they will deliver a manifesto to Congress on
Native and environmental issues.
The walk, organized by American Indian Movement activist Dennis Banks
and other Native leaders to draw attention to environmental
destruction and Native issues, is made up of Native and non-Native
people, including several supporters from Japan, some of them members
of the Buddhist Nipponzan Myohoji order. Commemorating a 1978 walk
that was organized to protest the abrogation of Indian treaties by
the U.S. government, it contains some of the walkers who took part in
the original walk.
On June 11, walkers on the northern route entered Pennsylvania, after
being stuck for several days in Ohio with no food or gas money. A
skirmish with police in Columbus, Ohio, ended up with one member
being led away in handcuffs.
Walkers on the southern route arrived in Asheville June 16, after a
group of 18 people broke away from the group to form their own walk.
Walkers report that the breakaway group got upset after a young girl
hurt her foot in an accident and not enough attention was paid to
her, an incident that spiraled into arguments and conflicts before
the breakaway group finally left.
Banks was not present during the incident, but has since returned to
the southern route. He could not be reached for comment on this
recent incident by press time.
Earlier, he had asked 24 people to leave the walk because they were
using marijuana and/or alcohol.
When interviewed in May in New Orleans, Banks said the walk ''was
going good'' and thanked the Rumsey Rancheria, the Havasupai, the
Apache, the Navajo, the pueblos, the Cheyenne and the Arapaho for
being particularly helpful with donations.
Walkers on the southern route are averaging about 17 miles a day,
waking at 4 a.m. to get on the road an hour later, and walking three
to seven miles before breakfast. Short breaks are taken every three
and a half miles, and the entire distance usually takes about seven
hours to cover. Runners average 30 - 50 miles a day, so that every
mile across the country is covered. Walkers take turns participating
in the trash crew, which cleans up garbage and trash along the way,
and the kitchen crew, which prepares the meals.
While northern walkers have had to use snowshoes on their journey,
temperatures on the southern route have soared into the high 90s.
Sweat-drenched walkers have used garden hoses, swimming holes and -
when they are lucky - showers to cool down. Support vehicles
accompanying the walkers, carrying food, luggage and water, have
frequently needed repair.
Southern walkers report a large number of them got sick in
Bakersfield from what they believe was contamination from nearby oil wells.
At night, the walkers unroll their sleeping bags and pitch their
tents on the grounds of community centers, city parks, reservations
and national forests.
In late June, walkers on the southern route were awakened when a car
full of hecklers drove into an Alabama city park where the walkers
were camped and yelled insults at the campers. The invaders were
driven out by the walkers and local police.
''I can't believe I've already covered 4,000 miles,'' said Ray, a
Native walker and runner on the southern route, as he carried the
flag of the Mohawk Nation down a hot road in Alabama.
He was philosophical about the interpersonal difficulties and
challenges that had arisen from within the group.
''They are human beings.''
Native and non-Native communities, businesses and individuals along
the way have shown their appreciation and support of the walkers with
gifts of money, food and water.
Native communities have spoken to the walkers about the issues they
face, including environmental degradation, health problems and
political struggles. These issues will be included in the manifesto
delivered to Congress.
On May 27, walkers on the southern route carried the flags of several
Indian nations into the 9th Ward of New Orleans, where, three years
after Hurricane Katrina, residents are still struggling to rebuild
their houses and community, with little support from city government.
Robert Green, who lost his mother and grandchild to the hurricane,
spoke to walkers in front of the trailer he now lives in, as the
walkers looked out on the flattened overgrown empty lots that once
contained the homes of middle-class families.
''A lot of people don't realize one person can make a difference. One
march can make a difference.'' he said. ''You're making us whole
again, and that's important to us.''
For more information on the Longest Walk II, visit www.longestwalk.org.