Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tour of the Desecration

Tour of the Desecration
The Longest Walk is Taking Notes

By Pathfinder
Earth First! Journal

On February 11, the Longest Walk 2008 embarked on a five-month journey from San Francisco to Washington, DC. This second Longest Walk not only marks the 30th anniversary of the first Longest Walk of 1978, which resulted in historic changes for Native America, but more importantly, it is taking note of the desecration of our environment. The goal of this walk is to bring attention to the massive destruction that is going on all around us. Our world is in peril, and the Native American worldviews that have had to fight for their very existence hold some of the answers to these problems.

The original Longest Walk was conducted in response to 11 proposed bills in Congress that would have annulled treaties protecting Native American sovereignty and furthered an American history that has continually chipped away at the very existence of indigenous cultures.

“In 1978, our communities faced many hardships, such as nonexistent religious rights and the criminalization of our people who fought for cultural survival. This is why the Longest Walk was necessary,” said Jimbo Simmons of the International Indian Treaty Council.

Starting out with just 17 people in San Francisco, the original walk ballooned to 30,000 by the time it reached Washington, to stand at the doors of Congress and defeat those 11 bills. In the following month, participants pushed for the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. As a result of the walk, indigenous people were granted the federal legislative right to freedom of religion—a fundamental right guaranteed to all other Americans under the US Constitution.

“As indigenous peoples in the US, our environment and our cultural survival are directly correlated and are still imperiled today. This is why we must walk once again,” added Simmons.

The religions of native cultures are directly intertwined with the land. When the land is in danger, the very existence of our culture is in danger. When you consider the problems we are facing in this country due to global warming, resource extraction, nuclear waste dumping, deforestation and water pollution, you start to see what a great danger we are all in—not just spiritually, but mentally and physically. Once again, it is time to take a stand—or in this case, a walk!

The Longest Walk 2008 is taking two routes. The northern route will follow the original route across 11 states and 3,600 miles. The southern route will follow another route across 13 states and 4,400 miles. Both routes will visit sacred sites across the US and promote awareness of sacred sites protection and environmental preservation.

In past years, Dennis Banks, the southern route coordinator, has done sacred runs from San Francisco to Washington. During that time, he and others began to notice that sage, a plant sacred to many indigenous cultures, was living amid garbage along the roadways. In the spirit of protecting a sacred plant, we have also launched the Clean Up Mother Earth campaign, where Longest Walk participants clean our country’s highways and roads by collecting debris found along the Longest Walk route. In the first 40 days, we have collected more than 1,000 bags of trash.

In addition to this, the walkers are paying attention to the world around them as they go, stopping in communities to talk to the people there. After taking note of the problems we all face from the destruction of our environment, the walkers are going to come together in a Cultural Survival Summit in Washington. Then, once again, they will knock on Congress’s door to tell it the story of the Great Walk and all they saw.

What Have We Seen So Far?

In Berkeley, California, at the very first steps of the walk, we witnessed treesitters trying to protect a grove of oak trees from development by the University of California-Berkeley (UCB). These oak trees were planted in 1923 on top of an Ohlone Indian burial ground, interestingly enough, to memorialize Californians who died in World War I. These activists have been treesitting now for more than 500 days. The group responsible for the sit has more demands than just saving the trees, though. It wants the repatriation of 13,000 native remains held at UCB’s Phoebe Hearst Museum and an end to UCB involvement in nuclear weapons design and research. In addition, it is demanding the preservation of Strawberry Canyon, a green belt where the grove and stadium are located, which also hosts Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, an Energy-Department-funded research facility dating back to the Manhattan Project and now slated to expand with a nanotech lab dubbed the “Molecular Foundry.”

Only one mile into the walk, there is already a lifetime of work to be done. However, we must venture on to Bakersfield, California. As walker Kaelen Holmes puts it, “The agriculture in California is disgusting. Bakersfield’s oil, agriculture and relative elevation make it one of the most sickeningly polluted places I have ever seen.”

If you are wondering where spinach and E. coli met, it was in Bakersfield, where it is a regular occurrence to spread sludge removed from toilet water and industrial sewage on the crops because it’s “nitrogen rich.” Of course, this sludge is also rich in pathogens, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals.

Further along the south route, the walk stayed with the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, which is dealing with chromium contamination. According to Marc Lifsher of the Los Angeles Times, “From 1951 to 1969, Pacific Gas and Electric dumped at least 108 million gallons of water laced with hexavalent chromium into the ground around Topock. The utility used the chemical compound, a known carcinogen referred to as chromium-6 and made infamous by the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, to prevent corrosion and retard the growth of mold in a cooling tower at a compressor station that pushes natural gas through its pipelines.”

Walking across the California-Arizona border and into the Grand Canyon to visit the Havasupai Tribe, the group was informed of huge piles of uranium tailings that sit just feet from the Colorado River. These tailings have been affecting the health of the Havasupai since the 1950s uranium boom. They are now trying to deal with the fact that the Bush administration is once again attempting to open that area up to uranium mining.

We moved out of the Grand Canyon and into Flagstaff, Arizona, where the Save the Peaks Coalition has been holding the US Forest Service (USFS) at bay for the past seven years in the USFS’s plans to use treated sewage effluent to make fake snow at Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks. This area is completely surrounded by land with a wilderness designation. These same peaks are considered sacred by more than 17 Arizona tribes, and this treated sewer water would literally destroy the power of the medicines gathered on the mountain by those tribes. According to the Hopi, it is also home to the deities known as Kachinas.

From Flagstaff, we head to Black Mesa, on the Diné Nations, where the federal government has allowed Peabody Coal to build stripmines and use pristine aquifer water to slurry the coal more than 200 miles to a power generating station. This use of water has led to aquifer depletion and local springs drying up. This coal mining has also polluted local water supplies to the point where animals have been seen to drink from the springs and die overnight.

Meanwhile, up in Colorado, the north route has been paying attention, too. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter issued a proclamation that March was Longest Walk Month in Colorado. After Ritter’s proclamation was read on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol, Longest Walkers proceeded in a prayer vigil to Newmont Mining Corporation. They did not back down when Newmont’s security forces called the Denver police. They continued with a drum song and prayer vigil when faced with arrest. Simmons then read to a representative of Newmont the demands of the Western Shoshone: that Newmont and other mining companies halt the destruction. Newmont’s representative declined to comment.

We still have a few thousand miles to go. Already, we have witnessed the destruction of the environment in mind-boggling quantities. It looks as though we will be issuing a very large book to Congress when we get to Washington.

If you are interested in coming on the walk, helping out in your town or just want more information, visit For a live broadcast from the northern route, visit For more information about the northern route, visit

Links to Threatened Sacred Sites

•Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska:
•Bear Butte, South Dakota:
•Black Mesa, Arizona:,
•Cave Rock, Nevada:
•Haskell-Baker Wetlands, Kansas:
•Mauna Kea, Hawaii:
•Medicine Lake, California:
•Mt. Graham, Arizona:
•Mt. Shasta, California:
•Mt. Tenabo, Nevada:
•Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico:
•San Francisco Peaks, Arizona:
•Shellmounds, California:
•Woodruff Butte, Arizona:
•Yucca Mountain, Nevada:

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