The Longest Walk is a cross-country march focused on protecting American Indian rights and heritage

By Christina M. Woods, The Wichita Eagle, APRIL 8, 2008

Hundreds of American Indian activists traveled through Kansas in 1978 as they walked from California to Washington, D.C., for Native American freedoms.

Wichitan Rick Regan, who met them at the Mid-America All-Indian Center, said he'll never forget the sea of people in red T-shirts participating in the Longest Walk, a civil rights march.

He's proud that his 23-year-old daughter, Sage, is among roughly 200 people now walking to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the march.

Participants arrived in Syracuse, Kan., from Colorado late Monday and are expected in Wichita on April 16. The Mid-America All-Indian Center, 650 N. Seneca, has planned a reception.

Organizers describe the walk as a living prayer.

The prayer includes respect for the American Indian ancestors whose bones are on display in museums rather than at peace in tribal burial grounds, organizers said.

The prayer includes urging lawmakers to craft proposals to safeguard the rocks, mountains and hills considered sacred to American Indian tribes that now are used for recreation.

The prayer urges people to challenge lawmakers to respect the Earth.

"As native people, our walk is carrying the message that all life is sacred and every step we take is a prayer," said Ricardo Tapia, a national coordinator for the walk's northern route along U.S. 50. Another set of walkers will take a route through New Mexico and other southern states.

"We do this not just for ourselves but for our future generations, and that involves people of all colors," Tapia said.

While in Kansas, walkers will visit Greensburg and perform a blessing ceremony.

Those who follow the southern route will stop in New Orleans to meet with Hurricane Katrina survivors.

Tapia said the walkers will gather information about environmental concerns of people they meet along both routes, then converge to present findings to lawmakers in Washington in July.

Kansas, Tapia said, has concerns such as the possibility of new coal plants and the elimination of wetlands.

"There's quite a few things just in Kansas alone that we'll be able to fit into what we're doing," he said.

A local organizer, Melody Rutledge, said welcoming walkers back to Wichita will bring the march full circle from 1978.

"This is a group of people trying to do something positive, making changes in communities and every place they go and with every place they stop on the walk," she said.

Newman Washington, the vice chairman of the Indian Center's board and a program director at Hunter Health Clinic, said he has requested that city and county officials recognize the march through proclamations.

The clinic, which is building an environmentally friendly clinic on East Central, will offer free services such as blood pressure checks to walkers.

Jimbo Simmons, Choctaw, who was the 1978 march coordinator, said the current walk will have an impact on people regardless of their heritage.

"It's a movement of people that's bringing attention and bringing the concerns of our people to the forefront here in America," he said.

Reach Christina M. Woods at 316-269-6791 or



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.