Dennis Banks, a co-founder of the American Indian Movement, will be leading the Longest Walk 5 beginning February 13 at La Jolla Shores in San Diego, California. Banks has declared this walk to be a war on drugs. The first Longest Walk was organized in 1978 to bring attention to 11 bills pending in the U.S. Congress. The Native Americans Equal Opportunity Act would have eliminated all treaties between the U.S. government and tribal nations. This bill did not pass largely due to the attention brought by the walk from California to Washington D.C.
The Longest Walk 2, “All Life is Sacred” was organized in 2008 to bring attention to the need to protect sacred sites on tribal land throughout Indian country. Singer Harry Belafonte attended the rally in Washington, D.C. when walkers arrived. The Longest Walk 3, “Reversing Diabetes” was organized in 2011 to bring attention to the diabetes epidemic throughout Indian country. Native Americans suffer the highest rates of diabetes, followed by African Americans. The Longest Walk 4 was a reverse walk held in 2014. It began in Washington, D.C., and ended on Alcatraz Island. The purpose was to educate Americans about the history of our many tribal removals from our homelands due to government policy. The Longest Walk 5: War on Drugs will cover 3,600 miles, and will travel through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, before ending in Washington, D.C. on July 15.
According to Banks, this walk will be dedicated to finding solutions to the current drug epidemic in Indian country and domestic violence against Native women. Both issues are important to him personally.
The Banks family recently completed funeral services for his beloved granddaughter Rose Downwind, who died tragically in October 2015 as a result of domestic violence. Her remains were discovered in a shallow grave outside of Bemidji, Minnesota. The perpetrator is now in prison charged with manslaughter, but that doesn’t ease the sorrow and pain her family continues to feel over the untimely passing of this beautiful Native daughter, granddaughter, and mother.
“Domestic violence and drugs are the most important issues facing our Native people at this time. I spoke recently with a Native woman who told me that four generations of her family have suffered from domestic violence. I want to find solutions to these problems, no matter how far I must walk to do so,” Banks said. “We must help guide our young men back to their own cultural and traditional roots. I do not believe we experienced this much violence historically in our tribes before colonization. It is a direct result of the Christian Church’s historic pattern of abuse [and colonization]. We must find a solution to this continued brutality of our Native women and our Earth. Drugs have played a large part in making domestic violence even more brutal and widespread.”
All along this 3,600-mile journey Banks plans to work with communities to collect information on ways to heal the people and the Earth. The organizers plan to host forums and gather information from community leaders, law enforcement, clergy and drug program directors in each Native community they travel through in order to find solutions to drug abuse and domestic violence.
“The issues facing our people and the issues facing our Earth are connected. They both are from thinking that does not value people or the Earth. As Native Americans, we say that all life is sacred, and we will speak as the conscience of our Earth as we journey across the United States,” Banks said.
Registration for all walkers, runners and volunteers will be held on February 12 at Barona Reservation in Lakeside, California from 10 a.m. to dusk. Events planned for the day include a sunrise/sunset sweat lodge, honoring drum songs, bird singing and dancing, desert songs, speakers, raffles held throughout the day, kids jump house, games and prizes for children, and food and beverages will be provided.
All walkers, runners, and volunteers will meet at La Jolla Shores on February 13, 2016. Participating tribes in the San Diego area include Barona, San Pasqual, Rincon, Pauma, Pala, Pechanga, Soboba, Morongo, Palm Springs, and Torres Martinez. Walkers and runners will leave California and travel to Yuma, Arizona. While in Arizona, the group plans to visit Oak Flat community and offer support as they battle against the sale of their sacred lands to a foreign mining company.
For information about registration, contact Bobby Wallace, Kumeyaay, at 619-318-2643 or Emily Burgueno at 619-550-7701. For more information about the Longest Walk 5: War on Drugs contact National Coordinator Orlando Vigil at 619-820-5945. Information can also be found on the Longest Walk’s website and Facebook page.