The Longest Walk 2: What is the longest walk?
Published 10:24 pm Saturday, May 31, 2008
Walking for a cause takes on a whole new meaning when the walk happens to be from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, Calif., to Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. The aptly named “Longest Walk 2” will cover 4,400 miles over a five-month long time period, and every mile will be covered on foot.
Along the way, people from all “walks” of life may discover their own reasons for making this journey, but the biggest objectives are to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk, 1978, which “resulted in historic changes for Native Americans,” and to raise awareness about sacred sites across the country.
Walkers traveling cross country are broken into two routes, Northern and Southern, and the southern itinerary included an overnight mandatory rest period in Picayune on Wednesday night. The group stayed at the local VFW, where they found support, food and a place to rest.
On Thursday morning, when the group stopped to breathe and hydrate, they also used the time to explain personal and group objectives.
Andrei Jacobs of Alaska, joined the group at the beginning. He knew within ten minutes of his brother telling him about the walk that he wanted to be a part of it. “Two days later I flew from Alaska to do it,” he said. “The group objective is to raise awareness about sacred sites. “Throughout native America there are many places that are being used by our government and corporations for economic benefit, but it doesn’t necessarily spiritually benefit native peoples.”
Jacobs believes that a great advantage to the walk is the diverse group of people it brings together. “Part of our purpose too, is to have walkers from all walks of life,” he said. “We have people from about 50 different places from around the world.” His fellow walkers are polish, japanese and there are even some Buddhist Monks intertwined in the group.
Part of the pilgrimage will include the writing of a manifesto to present to congress when the group reaches D.C. The manifesto will include a prologue about the walk’s history for its 30th anniversary and five concerns of native peoples. The concerns are environment, justice, peace, health and sovereignty. Jacobs says they also plan to talk to congressional representatives about things they learn along their way.
The group has already made several significant discoveries. “Dooda Desert Rock in New Mexico is perhaps one of the biggest coal mining concerns that have impacted a lot people on our walk. We’ve walked through their community to learn about wildlife, tradition and subsistent use of the land and its resources,” said Jacobs. The concern is that the burning of coal is completely destroying the habitat around it.
Another concern is water rights for tribes of the southwest and especially those of Arizona and New Mexico. “I can’t pinpoint one in particular, because I was concerned for many of them. Water rights are definitely a big concern,” he said.
The group came through Picayune via New Orleans. On Thursday, they were headed up Highway 11 North to Hattiesburg via Poplarville. The group was making great time at a pretty fast clip through the county.
Jacobs explained how the walk works. He said the walkers will take a section of the miles and then the rest of the miles are broken up between the runners of the group. For example, on a 70 mile leg, the walkers will walk the first fifteen miles, and the runners will break the remaining 55 miles into 10 mile sections, with one of the runners covering 15 miles. “So all the miles are covered, on foot, by somebody in our group,” he said. “In fact, yesterday we had a gal, she turned 28 years old, so she ran 28 miles. So people, for their birthday can either walk or run their miles.” Jacobs hesitated to admit he will be turning 33 in July.
Most of the places where the group stops to sleep have been prearranged. “We’re all poor, we’re all crazy and none of us have money, so we are stretching every dollar and cent that we possibly can through donations,” said Jacobs. The group was very grateful for the fresh vegetables that were brought to them during their stay at the Picayune VFW.
For Jacobs and a majority of the walkers, this is their first time on the walk, but they did have a few veterans in the group who made the original trek in 1978.
Emmett Eastman remembers the original walk and although he did not get to complete it due to work, he made several different legs of the journey. At the age of 76, he walks again to set an example for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. His Dakota name is Ta-wakan-hde-ota which means “his many lightnings.” Fellow walkers gave him the nickname “Indian Superman.” He walks for physical, mental and emotional health.
He also said, “I want to walk and run for the earth, for the cleansing of the earth.” Purity of the earth, mind and body are very important to him.
Everyone is looking forward to arriving in Philadelphia this weekend where they will get to participate in a powwow in their honor.
Eastman said, “I love to dance, besides walk.” He explained that dancing is very spiritual. The drum tells a story and they will express movements to the story that the drum tells.
After their quick rest in Carriere, the walkers were going to cover a few more miles before their lunch break.
Jacobs said all they could ask is that everyone keep them in their minds and thoughts. The journey is long and with the temperatures climbing they are easily getting dehydrated. “We are exerting a lot of energy, you know, just the thought of us is so important.”
To learn more, visit www.longestwalk.org.