Longest Walk 2: Saving the land again

By STEVE AYERS, Special to the Courier, MARCH 27, 2008

Dennis Banks has plenty of reasons to have plenty of enemies.

But that is no longer his style.

Few living American Indians has done as much to advance the rights and causes of Indian people than Banks. But in doing so he has stepped on more than a few toes.

A controversial figure whose life helped transform the way American Indians view their place in the world, Banks has been at the forefront of more than one life-changing episode in the movement to protect and enrich Indian sovereignty and culture.

He rose to notoriety in the late 1960s by co-founding the American Indian Movement. In 1969, he joined other Indian activists in the occupation of Alcatraz Island, the first major protest for Indian rights to gain national attention.

In 1972, Banks and others organized the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan that traveled to Washington, D.C. When Congress refused to meet with them, they seized the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and ransacked it.

The next year he traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to protest government corruption on reservations. His group would eventually seize Wounded Knee, the site of an infamous massacre of Sioux Indians, for 71 days.

His tactics were radical. His methods were controversial. But the result was a re-emergence of Indian pride that still is shaping the lives of American Indians and to some extent the lives of indigenous people around the world.

After serving an 18-month sentence in the 1980s, resulting from incidents in South Dakota in the early 1970s, Banks changed his tactics.

He went from civil disobedience to peaceful protest, leading several walks and runs across the county to draw attention to his people's plight and the need of Indian people to reconnect with their roots.

This year he is back on the road again, not so much for Indian rights as to draw attention to the ecological degradation of the world.

This journey goes by the name Longest Walk 2. Longest Walk 1 took place 30 years ago and helped put an end to a legislative movement that would have abrogated many of the remaining treaties with the federal government.

"If I am half as successful this time it would be a huge success," Banks said while making a stop on the Yavapai-Apache Reservation this week

The walkers come from tribes and cultures throughout the world. They left San Francisco on Feb. 12 and plan to arrive in Washington, D.C., on July 11.

The walk aims to bring attention to the environmental disharmony of the Earth, and to highlight sacred site issues. Walkers will pick up trash along the way.

When they arrive in Washington, they will deliver to Congress the concerns of native people whom they have met along the way. In Arizona, those concerns include using recycled wastewater for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks; using groundwater to transport Peabody coal across the Navajo Reservation; and exploratory drilling in the Grand Canyon area.

"I got the idea (for Longest Walk 2) after realizing that global warming was changing the way we farmed on our land in Minnesota," Banks said. He and his family grow wild rice and harvest maple syrup on the Leech Lake Reservation.

"This time we are calling attention to the Earth," Banks said. "As indigenous people, land is the most important thing we have. Without it we are lost. And it does us no good if it is destroyed.

"Taking it from us or ruining what we have left is all the same. Thirty years ago we walked to save our land from disappearing. This time we walk to save it from disappearing again."

A group of walkers, including Banks and several family members, were guests of the Yavapai-Apache Nation in the Verde Valley this past week.

Banks told a group of Yavapai-Apache youth and adults on Monday that this trip would be his last walk across the country. He has done it six times.

"It's time to pass the staff to the next generation of leaders," Banks said. "As for me, it's time to enjoy the benefits of being an elder. It's time I got some room service for a change."

Steve Ayres is a reporter with the Verde Independent. Contact him at sayers@verdevalleynews.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