On Earth Day the young Nihigaal Bee Iiná walkers completed the second leg of their journey, which was about 350 miles and lasted 32 days. The prayer-in-motion culminated with roughly 30 community members scaling Dooko’osliid (San Francisco Peaks), the western sacred mountain of the Diné (Navajo). Organizers of the Nihigaal Bee Iiná movement—translated as “Our Journey for Existence”—plan to walk a total of 1,000 miles this year in the name of their people, their land, their language and their culture.
The journey is most known for its documentation of the destruction of their homeland due to oil, gas, uranium and coal industries. The walk, however, is meant to be much more than a “protest.” To the walkers, it is a journey into the heart of their ancestral identity. It is a celebration and embodiment of a beautiful culture that was nearly wiped from the face of the earth during The Native American Holocaust.
The movement marks the 150th anniversary of “The Long Walk.” During this difficult time, over 9,000 Diné were marched at gunpoint in the dead of winter to Hweeldí, “the place of suffering”—a concentration camp where they would stay for four years. A lucky few survived this brutal internment, which later inspired Adolf Hitler’s dehumanization camps.
Having always been walkers and runners, the Diné are re-writing their collective narrative through Nihigaal Bee Iiná from one of defeat and suffering to one of triumph and perseverance. All along their journey walkers saw elders shedding tears of hope at the sight of the next generation fighting for who they are.
“I realized about a third through the walk that this is bigger than fracking, this is bigger than the energy sector, it’s bigger than resource extraction and corrupt tribal government. It’s truly a journey back to our original selves where with every year we walk, we are becoming more fluent in our language, we learn more stories about our land and our ancestors,” says walker Amber Hood. “I believe that in our original condition we were people of hope. And that is being restored.”
According to the walkers, they were blessed to have elders stop on the side of the road to sing traditional songs and offer prayers for a successful journey. Local chapter houses, friends and relatives offered them places to sleep each night. Seeds of Peace Collective, a volunteer organization dedicated to supporting on-the-ground resistance movements, helped them by cooking breakfast and dinner each day. Many schools and colleges opened their doors to them and gave them a chance to express their message to the students.
Shoe repair was necessary time and time again as hundreds of miles of roads ate away at the soles of their moccasins. Foot blisters and sunburns were a part of everyday life, but with laughter, teamwork and prayer, the sacred staff made it all the way from one sacred mountain to the next.
The walkers have now journeyed over 550 miles—first from Bloomfield, New Mexico to Grants, New Mexico and then from Grants, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona. The third leg of their journey will commence on the summer equinox and will take them from Dooko’osliid to Dibé Nistaa, their northern sacred mountain near Durango, Colorado. Until then, many walkers are deepening their cultural knowledge by participating in the planting season and spending time on the land.