March for American Indian awareness comes to Lodi

By Chris Nichols, News-Sentinel Staff Writer, FEBRUARY 14, 2008

More than 50 spirited marchers arrived in Lodi on Wednesday as part of the Longest Walk 2008, a five-month, cross-country trek to raise awareness for American Indian issues.

The group plans to walk to Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 30th anniversary of 1978's Longest Walk.

Like marchers three decades ago, their goals include promoting social justice and protections for the environment and American Indian burial grounds, several said.

The marchers wearing Longest Walk T-shirts and leather medicine bags and carrying a tall banner lined with eagle feathers set off from Flag City on Wednesday morning, the third day of their journey, passing scenic grapevines and orchards along Highway 12.

With a diverse collection of participants, including Buddhist monks, Japanese tourists and numerous young people, the rural roadway looked more like downtown Berkeley than San Joaquin County.

Stopping during a break in the march, Larry Bringing Good, of Stockton, one of the walk's organizers, explained a bit of history behind the effort. Threats by the federal government to dissolve treaties with American Indians spurred the first walk. Mining and timber interests had set eyes on reservation lands, he said.

Environmental concerns, such as air and water pollution, along with the first walk's anniversary, drove this year's march.

Kenneth Reid, of Portland, leads a group of marchers on the "Longest Walk 2," a cross-country trek to raise awareness of American Indian issues, on Wednesday on Highway 12, while carrying the American Indian Movement Longest Walk Eagle Staff. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

"We hope that it will give people a reason to think," Bringing Good said, as one of the group's organizers, Wounded Knee, of Vallejo, energized the marchers with a passionate speech near Davis Road.

"Hopefully it will inspire some at home to change within themselves," added Bringing Good, who traces his heritage to the southern Cheyenne Arapaho tribe of Oklahoma. "Maybe they'll come out and walk with us, do something healthy. Maybe when they're brushing their teeth, they'll turn off the water. Maybe when they're walking down the hall, they'll
turn the light off."

People from all backgrounds are welcome to join the march as it heads south, Bringing Good said. An eclectic bunch has already formed, the result of word-of-mouth news and postings on the Internet.

Many marchers will likely join for a short period and then leave. Others will stay for the full trip, Bringing Good said.

Numerous supporters drive cars or vans carrying food and other supplies for the marchers, who typically camp in tents at night.

The group was headed to the Lodi Sikh Temple on Armstrong Road Wednesday. They'll head to Stockton Thursday, then Manteca, Madera and Fresno, and on to Southern California, Arizona, through the South and up to the nation's capital.

A second group of walkers plans a northern route through California, Nevada and across the nation's plains and Midwest, before reaching Washington, D.C.

Eighteen-year-old Andrea Murrillo of San Jose quit her job at Jamba Juice to join the group. Walking under a clear blue but windy sky Wednesday, she said she plans on completing the entire march.

"I did this for my family, for my ancestors, for the future of our children," said Murrillo, whose family is of Aztec descent.

Wounded Knee, who said he also participated in the 1978 walk, noted there are new challenges for American Indians today.

Extracting artifacts from museums and returning them to tribal burial grounds is one such struggle. American Indian groups have contested the University of California, Berkeley's right to display many such remains at the campus' Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

Trucking nuclear waste to Nevada's Yucca Mountain has also angered that state's tribal groups, Wounded Knee noted.

"We're on a spiritual journey," he declared, shouting above the passing big rigs and commuter cars on the narrow highway. "Because our sovereignty is at threat. Our environment is at threat ... We want the people to know us indigenous people, we're still here and all life is sacred."

Contact reporter Chris Nichols at chrisn@lodinews.com.

 



 


        


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html