Manataka American Indian Council
The Longest Walk 2
Travelin' through Kansas City
By Linda VanBibber, Manataka Correspondent
Her name is Sharon and she is a Maori woman. Her tribe is not recognized by the government in New Zealand where she lives. Since 9-11 the government has used ‘homeland protection’ strategies as an excuse to harass her people, accusing them of terrorism, searching cars at gunpoint and breaking into homes. Sharon and her family, her husband and daughters, have traveled to the United States from New Zealand to participate in the Longest Walk 2. Sharon’s husband, a Native American, participated in the first Longest Walk 30 years ago.
On Feb. 11th, 2008, Longest Walk participants embarked on a five month journey from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. where they will arrive on July 11th. It is an extraordinary grassroots effort on a national level to bring attention to the environmental disharmony of Mother Earth, sacred site issues, and to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk.
The 2008 Longest Walk marks the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk of 1978 that resulted in historic changes for Native America. In July of 1978, thousands of First Nations people and their supporters converged on the Nations’ capitol to oppose and successfully defeat 11 pieces of legislation in Congress that would have terminated many significant treaties between the federal government and indigenous tribes nationwide.
Largely due to the impact of that first Longest Walk and the hard work of many Native American activists, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978 was passed one month after the walk arrived in D.C. AIRFA states that it is ‘the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian”.
Each walker and runner has joined the 2008 Longest Walk for their own reasons. Each has a story. The Walkers arrived in Leavenworth County Kansas Thursday night, May 1st, tired and hungry and wanting showers. They had just visited Haskell Indian Nations University near Lawrence, Kansas, where they learned about the Haskell-Baker wetlands, a Sacred Area under threat of destruction by the construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
They were greeted and assisted by the Camp Gaea community Thursday night. The people who care for and frequent the beautiful grounds at Camp Gaea had been preparing for their visit all week and had food ready.
Phyllis Cronbaugh, a local Cherokee, brought her ceremonial drum out to the Camp. A lively drum circle followed dinner with local drummers joining the drummers from the Walk. Charlie, one of the drummers, reported that he joined the walk in Colorado. Charlie spoke of the drug and alcohol problems on the reservation. Charlie is from Pine Ridge and was in Denver when he encountered the walkers and just decided to join them.
May 2nd, the Walkers moved on to downtown Kansas City, Missouri,
where they were met by Mayor Mark Funkhouser at the Farmers Market. The Kansas
City Mayor had issued a proclamation declaring May 2008 Longest Walk Month in
Kansas City, and offered his support to fix the walker's bus which recently
Melissa Hope of the Sierra Club commended the work of the Longest Walkers carrying the message of the environmental disharmony this country is experiencing. She stated, “No community should bear a higher risk of harm because of their demographic or economic condition. The Sierra Club opposes efforts to dispossess indigenous people of their lands, their cultures, and their right to self determination.”
Each walker shared their story with the people of Kansas City. They walk first for Mother Earth, to create a deeper awareness of the need to stop the plundering of resources and leave something for the grandchildren. They walk for the Sacred Sites, to assure access to the traditional places of prayer. They walk for their tribes, to create awareness of the government abuses of Native rights and disregard for treaties. They walk for the rights of indigenous people everywhere. They walk to pray. It is a spiritual journey.
As Sharon stated, “The thing that makes the most sense, it is the walking. The walking is good. It is a prayer. I walk for hope for my people.” For Sharon and the Maori, the fact that the government here even talks to the First Nations people here in America, brings hope. In New Zealand, the indigenous people are not recognized as a nation; there are no treaties. New Zealand, like the United States, did not ratify the Indigenous Peoples Rights proclamation made by the United Nations.
Friday evening at 5:00, the group met at the Osage Trace, a sacred site in Independence, Missouri. Chief Jake Swamp planted a Peace Tree here in 1999 to mark the site. Chief Jake, who was on hand for the occasion, asked his wife, “Is this the tree we planted? It has grown a lot in these few years!"
The mayor of Independence had also issued with a proclamation of support which was sent with the Walkers to Washington DC. Local Independence Natives had tied ribbons to the Peace Tree which they asked the Walkers to take with them. The wind, blowing strong with a message of change, kept the ribbons dancing as a circle was opened with drumming and songs. Phyllis Cronbaugh provided her ceremonial drum for this occasion as well. Calvin, speaker for the walkers, took four ribbons to send home for a sacred staff he is making.
Calvin explained that while each walker had their own reasons for joining the walk, they also carried with them the prayers of the communities they visited. Time in the circle was given for the prayers of local people to be spoken.
Walkers will take 10 days to cross Missouri, stopping to hear community's
concerns along the way. They are expected to arrive in Washington, D.C. on July
11, 2008, where they will bring their concerns to the Federal Government as well
as hold a Cultural Survival Summit to bring attention to the issues of
environmental injustice, protection of sacred sites, cultural survival, youth
empowerment, and eroding Native American rights the Longest Walk 2 has
encountered along the route.
My brothers and sisters of Manataka, please pray for and with these Walkers. Their feet speak the prayers of our hearts.
To learn more about this historic effort, visit http://www.longestwalk2.org
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