Local members of Quechan tribe take part in Longest Walk 2

By Darin, Fenger, Yuma Sun Staff Writer, FEBRUARY 18, 2008

Some local American Indians are hitting the highway on a coast-to-coast trek dedicated to better protection of Mother Earth and her sacred sites.

This trek, called the Longest Walk 2, took off this week from San Francisco with hopes of arriving in Washington, D.C., by early July.

Several members of the Quechan Indian Tribe are on the road with this national event. The local walkers arrived in San Francisco last weekend to prepare for the long journey with special rituals and celebrations at Alcatraz Island.

The local organization Pipa A'koots, led by Quechan elders, now wants to encourage local people to join the long walk when it passes through Parker in mid-March. Group leaders say they also want walkers to come down to the Yuma area to bring attention to the Quechan Tribe building a casino on land that Pipa A'koots' considers a sacred mountain.

"Why the longest walk? ...Indian nationals will be walking to protect sacred sites, to protect Mother Earth and for the Seventh Generation," Pipa A'koots said in a news release. Many tribes believe that long-lasting decisions about the environment should be made with the future's seventh generation in mind.

The Longest Walk 2 boasts walkers representing tribes from around the nation. The event is co-sponsored by well-known American Indian activist Dennis Banks.

The Longest Walk 2 coincides with the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk, which forged the path in 1978 but was dedicated to fighting for American Indian rights.

Vernon Smith, a founding member of Pipa A'koots, stressed that participating in long runs and walks reflects an important aspect of ancient tradition for many tribes - including the Quechan. Smith spoke how in the past the Quechan Tribe would use runners to take important news to another town. He added that today a ceremonial runner is often included in tribal funerals, with the runner running in front of the hearse on its way to the cremation grounds.

Pipa A'koots organized a local ritual between Yuma and the casino building site when the organization first began its struggle against the project.

"This Longest Walk isn't just for natives, either. It's for anybody that cares about the land," Smith said. "People are waking up and wanting to protect Mother Earth."

Smith said more Quechan people will join the Longest Walk 2 either by walking to Parker to meet up with the procession or by driving up there and walking east with everyone for a while.

"We're not too young any more, but we're going to participate," Smith said, referring to Quechan elders. "We'll march as far as we can."

Smith has not heard from walk organizers if representatives will come down to Yuma.

The Quechan last participated in a major political run in the 1980s when a procession came through from Alaska. Quechan runners joined the procession, leading the event's guests through Quechan lands as the event proceeded south into Mexico.

Smith said he hopes most Quechan people will get excited about Longest Walk 2 and get involved.

"I think we should all put our differences aside and get involved. Don't sit back just because we are involved," he said. "This event is for all tribes - the entire country - not just our tribe."

For more information go to www.longestwalk.org.

Darin Fenger can be reached at dfenger@yumasun.com or 539-6860




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