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August 02, 2016

The Longest Walk 5: Visions

Since 1978, American Indian activists have used protest marches across the United States to call attention to issues of great concern to their nations and communities. This is the last post in a three-part series by April Chee (Navajo) on the Longest Walk 5: Declaring War on Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence. April's first post gives a brief history of the Longest Walk. In the second post, she interviews Dennis Banks, a leader in the American Indian Movement from the beginning, about his goals for activism, in past decades and today. 

LW5 AmigoNonProfitFilmsThe Longest Walk 5 reaches its destination—the Lincoln Memorial, the site of so many important demonstrations for civil rights. July 15, 2016, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of AmigoNonProfitFilms, used with permission.


It has been a little more than two weeks since the Longest Walk 5 made its way into Washington, D.C. Into the nation’s capital, where it is not every day that you see a tipi on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Not every day that you hear the sound of a powwow resonating as tourists capture their photos of the memorial pool, Native supporters showing up in their traditional clothing, adorned with beadwork, turquoise, and feathers, their moccasins tied tight. It is a remarkable sight to experience, in the center of a city where Supreme Court decisions are made, our president addresses the world, and Congress discusses legislation, the words spelled out for all to see from a distance away, “WE ARE STILL HERE.”

Aware or unaware, we are all standing in the midst of history. One day you are simply reading about the American Indian Movement and the lengths protestors took to have Native rights heard, and the next you are in the midst of it all, meeting people who walked that walk in 1978. Thirty-eight years after the original Longest Walk, “We are still here.”

The Longest Walk 5: Calling an End to Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence was not a walk just for Native people. It was a walk for all of humanity, calling attention and asking for action on issues that to some degree affect every single person living in this great nation. Calling attention and asking for action to protect our generations to come, to protect those who are still here, to re-establish that connection to a healthy, positive life. To heal our communities and move forward in a way that benefits not only ourselves, but also our families, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and fellow citizens. This is a call to end the high rate of suicide among our Native youth, to end the statistic that one in three Native women will be the victim of sexual abuse in her lifetime. The Longest Walk 5 did not take the journey across the United States lightly. The people who made the walk carry a burden felt by all of Indian Country.

As part of the walk, people across the country conducted forums and discussions on what can be done to end drug use and domestic violence. By holding on to the healing that comes from spiritual and cultural connections that have long helped Native people survive, we are still here. Surveys were conducted, talking circles were held, and healing was offered to those who needed it most. Like the walk across the country, that journey will be long. 

Longest Walk 2 2016-07-15
Since the American Indian Movement organized the first cross-country journey in 1978, the Longest Walk has called people's attention to treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, the protection of sacred sites and the environment, healing drug abuse and violence against women and children, and other crucially important issues. July 15, 2016, National Mall, Washington, D.C. Photo by April Chee, NMAI.

On July 15, 2016, people arrived at Arlington National Cemetery at 8 in the morning to begin their walk to the Lincoln Memorial. Artist Kid Valance performed a theme song and reflection. A traditional Native American Water Ceremony was conducted, followed by remarks on the movement by members of the Longest Walk 5, Dennis Banks, and allies. Longest Walk 5 members plan to continue to collect data as they did on their journey. They will make this information available to Native nations and communities both to support more funding for resources and to give community members who have first-hand experience with these issues more input into healing.

After a 3,000-mile walk across the United States that spanned a five-month period, the Longest Walk 5 convened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On the steps of a memorial to a U.S. president who gave the word to have 38 Dakota prisoners executed in 1862, members of the Longest Walk 5, an American Indian Movement–led walk, stood to say, “We are still here.” To have survived hundreds of years of wars, termination, removal, and assimilation, Native Americans are still here and still fighting for our people.

—April Chee, NMAI

April Chee (Navajo) is Tábąąhi (Waters Edge Clan) born for Naakaii Dine′é (Mexican People) from Coalmine, New Mexico. April is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and will graduate in fall 2016. She was selected as a Smithsonian intern for the summer of 2016 and is working in the Public Affairs Office of the National Museum of the American Indian.


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