FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 24th, 2008
Contact: Klee Benally
Hundreds Welcome Indigenous Rights Walk to Flagstaff
Flagstaff, AZ – On Friday, March 21st, Indigenous spiritual leaders,
environmental groups, tribal officials and 250 community members welcomed
more than 100 participants of the Longest Walk 2.
The Longest Walk 2 marks the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk
of 1978 that resulted in historic changes for Native Americans.
The Longest Walk 2 is a five- month journey, beginning in San Francisco, CA
and finishing in Washington D.C., bringing attention to environmental
protection and Native American rights.
“Weâ€™ve crossed 18 mountain ranges. We have walked 980 miles to be here,â€?
said Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement and lead
coordinator for the Southern Route of the Longest Walk 2. â€œThirty years ago
a walk took place across this country and one of the issues that we brought
before members of congress was the issue of the San Francisco Peaks, the
holy mountain. 30 years later we are still concerned about the destruction
and the violation of the holiness of this mountain.”
Longest Walk 2 participants joined with tribal and spiritual leaders and
community members before entering Flagstaff at a sunrise prayer gathering.
The ceremony was held on Arizonaâ€™s San Francisco Peaks where Snowbowl, a
small private ski resort, has been attempting to expand and make fake snow
from treated sewage effluent. More than 13 Indigenous Nations hold the Peaks
holy and are unified in resisting the desecration of this sacred site.
Following the ceremony the walkers proceeded down the holy mountain picking
up trash on their way to Flagstaff City Hall for a news conference and
rally. Representatives of the Save the Peaks Coalition, Sierra Club, ECHOES,
Black Mesa Water Coalition, and C-Aquifer for Dineâ€™ addressed the issues
facing their communities and voiced their support for the Longest Walk 2.
Shelby Ray, a 16-year-old representative of Youth of the Peaks, expressed
her gratitude and encouragement to the young walkers saying, â€œWe need more
youth to speak out and take action for the environment and our rights.â€?
â€œThe Longest Walk 2 is a spiritual walk for the protection of our Mother
Earth,â€? said Jeneda Benally, a volunteer with the Save the Peaks Coalition.
â€œWe are honored and blessed to welcome and host everyone who is on this
historic journey. From the holy San Francisco Peaks to Black Mesa, Yucca
Mountain, Bear Butte, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Shell Mounds, and
many, many more, the Longest Walk is here because we are still struggling to
protect our cultures and land.â€?
â€œThis movement is a healing of our communities,â€? said Kelvin Long, director
of ECHOES, a Flagstaff based Indigenous rights organization.
â€œThe continued desecration of sacred sites in America should be an affront
to all people of conscience everywhere,â€? stated attorney and congressional
candidate Howard Shanker. â€œNative Americans have no First Amendment Rights
regarding public land use.â€? Shanker has successfully represented tribes and
environmental groups in the precedent setting case to protect the holy
Phil Stego Jr., Executive Director of Land Management for the White Mountain
Apache Tribe stated, â€œFor those of you that believe Indian wars are over,
they are not. They are just beginning again. We will fight to the end for
our peopleâ€™s existence.â€? Stego also made a point to dispel the myth about
the use of reclaimed water at Sunrise ski resort. He stated, â€œAs the
Director of Natural Resources for the White Mountain Apache, I can tell you
that Snowbowl is lying. We are not using reclaimed water at our ski resort.â€?
â€œWe have Navajo tribal officials who stand up to protect the sacred mountain
but donâ€™t realize that water is also sacred. We say that water is life,â€?
said Calvin Johnson, president of C-Aquifer for Dineâ€™, an organization
formed to oppose Peabody Coalâ€™s use of the C-Aquifer for coal transport from
Black Mesa. C-Aquifer for Dineâ€™ also opposes the “Settlement Plan” that
would reopen the Mohave Generating Station and Peabody Coal mining
operations. Johnson led the crowd in chanting, â€œProtect sacred sites,
defend human rights.â€?
â€œRight now 80% of the natural resources held underneath Indigenous peopleâ€™s
lands are being threatened. There is an ongoing war being waged for these
resources.â€? said Enei Begaye, director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition.
â€œWe agree that we need to stop the war in Iraq and end the occupation of
other territories around the world. However it is important to remember
that the U.S. is also occupying sovereign nations here in this country. On
Behalf of Black Mesa Water Coalition, weâ€™d like to honor the walkers for
carrying this message,â€? said Begaye.
People from throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia who have
joined the Longest Walk 2 offer their support to the struggles of Indigenous
people in the United States. Jun Yasuda, a Buddhist nun from the Nipponzan
Myohiji Order in Japan said, â€œWalk is a prayer, step by step we will walk
until mother earth smiles.â€? Yasuda is a veteran of the 1978 Longest Walk and
has continued to walk throughout the world for peace and Indigenous Peoplesâ€™
The Longest Walk 2 is anticipated to arrive in Washington, D.C. on July 11,
2008. â€œUpon our arrival, we will deliver a resolution to elected officials.
This resolution will document the struggles and concerns from each
indigenous community that we encounter during our walk,â€? said Dennis Banks.
â€œOur intention is to give a greater voice to the environmental and
indigenous struggles that our government doesnâ€™t often acknowledge.â€? â€œThe
Havasupai recently invited us down into the Grand Canyon. They told us
about the exploratory drilling for and the seepage of uranium into the
Colorado River. We were hosted also by the Hualapai where chromium affects
their daily lives today.â€? stated Banks.
During the 1978 Longest Walk, thousands converged on Washington, D.C. in an
effort that defeated 11 pieces of legislation in Congress that would have
abrogated Native American Treaties. As a result of the 1978 Walk, the
American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978) was passed.
Since the arrival of the Longest Walk 2 to Flagstaff, many community members
have volunteered to cook, provide housing, monetary donations and other
â€œI feel like they are making history,â€? said Denise Stoner, an active Dineâ€™
(Navajo) mom who has donated food and volunteered kitchen support. â€œOur
rights need to be supported, if we donâ€™t say anything now we might not have
a chance to.â€? Denise Stoner also urged more people to get involved with the
walk, â€œI know that its kind of hard because we are in a recession, times are
tight right now but there are a lot of resources in this town, our community
has a lot to offer.â€?
The walkers will remain in the Flagstaff area until March 29th. On
Wednesday, March 26th at 6:30 p.m. a panel discussion on the Longest Walk 2
will be held at NAUâ€™s Cline Auditorium. On Thursday, March 27th at 5:00 p.m.
a benefit concert will be held at the Orpheum Theatre. On Friday, March 28th
at 11 a.m. a prayer gathering will be held with opportunity for individuals
to speak about issues impacting their communities. The gathering will be
held at the Star School, located at 145 Leupp Rd.
After their Flagstaff visit, the Longest Walk 2 will continue though the
Navajo Nation. For a complete itinerary, specific directions and additional
information please visit: www.longestwalk.org.