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American-Indians walk across U.S. for cause 8,300-mile trek to draw attention to environmental effects on tribes

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 09/26/2008 - 2:48pm

RICHMOND, Va. - With hopscotch speed, Shanawa Littlebow leapt to the side of the road, scooped up a plastic bottle cap and fell back into line with his fellow walkers, passing trailer homes and gas stations along Jefferson-Davis Highway.

Sweat beaded at his temples and dampened the seat of his cargo shorts.

The Tigua Indian man walked and searched for litter — a feathered staff in the crook of his right arm — in honor of Mother Earth.

"There may be a lot of people who don't even care," he said. "But at least we're out here, and we're speaking out."

The 100-person caravan passed through Virginia Tuesday in the final stretch of the Longest Walk 2, an 8,300-mile trek from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the effects of environmental devastation on American Indians and all people.

The walk began Feb. 11, and is expected to end July 11, when organizers plan to present a 30-page manifesto of American-Indian environmental concerns to Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat who advocates on a wide range of minority issues, on the U.S. Capitol steps.

The walk marks the 30th anniversary of the first Longest Walk, a 3,600-mile effort that gathered support to successfully halt bills before Congress that Native Americans said threatened their sovereignty.

This year's walk was longer by demand, said national organizer Dennis Banks, 76, who founded the first walk in 1978.

"A great number of tribes in the Southwest insisted that we come through," he said.

Two groups, one mission
Banks said two groups of walkers set out from San Francisco and split up — the southern delegation passing through states like Texas, Alabama and Tennessee, while the northern group has walked through Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

They'll all meet in Maryland and continue to Washington.

Along the way, Banks said they've picked up 3,800 bags of trash.

They've also gathered a running list of American-Indian worries — everything from concern about burial grounds under threat in Kentucky to fears about the future of Arizona mountains threatened by ski resort development.

There are 11.9 million American Indians across the nation, according to the Census. Their concerns gained renewed attention in May as Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama visited Montana's Crow Indian reservation and was adopted into the nation during a private ceremony.

American Indians have been mixed on their reaction to Obama's attention, with some questioning his intentions as the election shifts into high gear.

"I just hopes he sticks to his words," Karl Red Horse, a Navajo man said Tuesday, as he marched. "At least we (will) have somebody in there other than Caucasian."

He said he'd done 1,000 miles of the walk, which was expected to spend several days passing through central Virginia.

'We're walking'
Some skeptics, even in black America, where marches for social change are historic, have begun to question the impact a group of people on foot can have.

Shanawa Littlebow isn't among the doubters. He marched beneath a rainbow of fluttering flags, to the tum of drums.

To say it doesn't work, "it's to say a wheel doesn't work when it's turning. We're turning. We're walking. It's working," he said.