Walking with a purpose

At least 100 Native Americans, Japanese Buddhists and others are expected to converge on Asheville June 16 as they make their way on a five-month, 4,400-mile journey from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., known as the Longest Walk 2.

Walkabout: Native Americans and their supporters are slated to arrive in Asheville June 16 for a visit as they trek cross country to bring attention to the environment and sacred-site protection.

The excursion, led by American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis J. Banks, commemorates the Longest Walk of 1978, which was conducted in response to proposed legislation in Congress that would have abrogated treaties protecting Native American sovereignty. At least partially as a result of that original walk, all 11 bills were defeated and, in the aftermath, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978 was passed.

The journey this time is an effort to press for protection of Native sacred sites and bring attention to the environment. The Longest Walk 2 will take two routes—a northern path traveling the original route of 1978 across 11 states and 3,600 miles, and a southern route that comes through Asheville after a stop in Cherokee and follows the 2006 Sacred Run path across 13 states and 4,400 miles. The southern route will also focus on the Clean Up Mother Earth Campaign, with participants working together to clean up our country’s—and Buncombe County and the state’s—highways and roads by collecting trash and recyclables found along the route.

“In 1978, our communities faced many hardships such as non-existing religious rights and criminalization of our people who fought for cultural survival, this is why the Longest Walk was necessary. As indigenous peoples in the United States, our environment and our cultural survival are directly correlated and are still imperiled today, this is why we must walk once again,” states Jimbo Simmons of the International Indian Treaty Council.

The group will camp at Southern Waterways, located at 521 Amboy Road, according to Susanne Wilson, one of the local coordinators, before departing on the next leg of their journey on June 19. She and others hope to schedule events while the walkers are here, but sympathizers are encouraged to visit and get involved—starting with helping to feed the walkers while they are in town.

The walk is open to anyone who wants to take part for one leg or for the rest of the journey, which is expected to end in Washington on July 11 follwed by a two-day celebration on the National Mall.

To sign up for the walk, make monetary or in-kind donations or simply learn more, visit www.longestwalk.org.

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