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
"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
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
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 email@example.com