Friday, May 9, 2008

On the Longest Walk, the sovereign self

International Indian Treaty Council and Longest Walk present human rights forum
By Brenda Norrell
U.N. OBSERVER and International Report

EDWARDSVILLE, Illinois – 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.

Lenny Foster: Walking into the futureLenny 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 under attack.”
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 good memory.
“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 sovereigntyMichael 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 ClayTomas 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 with disrespect.
“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 becoming millionaires.
“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.”


Photo Brenda Norrell

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