Friday, March 28, 2008

American Indians walk again 30 years later for their rights

Long after 1978’s Longest Walk brought American Indian issues onto the public radar screen, veterans of the original walk, including Dennis Banks are at it again (e-mail subscription link):

The 2008 walk, which began Feb. 11, is “a cry out to all native people for unity and solidarity,” according to Jimbo Simmons, a Choctaw. It’s split into two different routes. Simmons is leading the northern one, which follows the same trail used by the walkers 30 years ago. And American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis Banks, now in his 70s, is leading the southern route, which passes through Indian land. Both Simmons and Banks are veterans of the original walk.

“Nothing’s changed,” Simmons says. “There’s still a systematic violation of human and natural rights.”

People on the southern route take a rest on the lower Colorado River:

The area has sites sacred to various lower river tribes.
Despite the passage of the Religious Freedom Act, Simmons says threats to Indian sacred sites have intensified. He mentions 15 sites that are threatened or already compromised: Mount Shasta in California, for example, where tribes and environmentalists are fighting geothermal development, and Bear Butte in South Dakota, where bikers, chainsaws and a shooting range have desecrated Lakota sacred areas. At Yucca Mountain in Nevada, sacred to Shoshone and Paiute people, tribes have played a prominent part in protesting a long-planned nuclear waste dump.

There’s also a continued economic exploitation of various tribes, as this story makes clear.

The walks will end at the Capitol in July; from there, Banks will draft a manifesto to Congress based on comments and input from various tribes he meets on his walk and in Washington, D.C.

But, we shoudn’t lump all tribes under the generic “Native American” or “American Indian” anymore than we should all African-Americans, let alone sub-Saharan African descendants who moved here from the Caribbean, or as free persons from Africa in recent years.

For example, at least one tribe WANTS to store nuclear waste, if the dollars are there. (That said, “official” tribal governments were usually installed from above, i.e., at the behest of the Department of the Interior, and aren’t always seen as totally representative of tribal people as a whole>

And of course, especially with the rise of the New Age Movement since 1978, there’s a flip side or two. For example, on this recreated walk, only about one-quarter of the walkers are American Indians. Others have interest in Native American issues as they are, and some are probably, as is the case with New Agers in the Southwest, fusing or shoehorning real Native American beliefs into their own metaphysical schemas:
Another fourth are dread-locked or tie-dyed activists and the rest come from everywhere else, including as far off as Germany or Australia.

There is a large group of Japanese with three-month visas who flew in to the starting point, including a Buddhist woman with a shaved head and a Polish man who once wrote an article for a magazine about the sacred sites he saw for the first time on Friday.

Takuya Sasa, 28, flew in from Tokyo, where he works as a shoemaker. He came along on the trip because he wanted to see America by foot, and because he once had a great experience with American Indians in South Dakota. Every time he thinks of them, he says, it touches his heart and gives him the same sensation he gets at a Japanese temple.

The flip side of this flip side is that activists in foreign countries have been an important part of holding U.S. elected officials’ feet to the fire since 1978.

Personally, I know one major issue is for the Department of the Interior to stop stonewalling on the multibillion lawsuit filed against it for squandering Indian allotment money.

That, too, is something that will ultimately get put off until the next presidential administration. But, that too, like many other things that got worse under George W. Bush, has its roots in the Clinton Administration.