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Katja Tunkkari

Participants in a cross-country walk to raise awareness of addiction and domestic violence on reservations left Ferndale on Sunday, destination: Washington D.C.

The walk is the last of three making up the Longest Walk 5. The Longest Walk was initially launched by the American Indian Movement in 1978. Dennis Banks, a co-founder of the group, thought of the idea, and was also the person who organized the Longest Walk 5. Banks lost his own granddaughter to domestic violence in 2015, Indian Country Today reported.

This year’s walk held special meaning for participants, as Banks died in October. Included in the opening ceremony was a tribute to honor Banks’ life.

A group of around twenty Native American chiefs, elders, community members and supporters gathered in Ferndale for the opening ceremony,  bundled in a multitude of layers and donning American Indian Movement buttons and apparel.

Participants included supporters from all over the globe, ranging from people from Japan to members of Nevada’s Shoshone Tribe, who made the trip by car from Reno, Nev. to attend the opening ceremony. Freddie Xwenang Lang, a member of Lummi Nation and host of the opening ceremony, was also in attendance.

During the opening ceremony, the walk’s national chief, Bobby Wallace, emphasized the necessity of addressing domestic violence and the epidemic of substance addiction within Native American communities.

“To everyone standing here in front of me: together, we can make a difference,” Wallace said.

He also emphasized the importance of solidarity and spiritual cohesion for the success of the walk.

The participants then started embarking on their walk spanning roughly 10,000 miles across the Northern United States. They will pass through various communities and Native American reservations before concluding in Washington D.C. in July for a final rally and progress evaluation.

Jeremiah Jones holds the flag of the Western Shoshone at the opening ceremony for the Longest Walk 5.3. Jones travelled from Reno, Nev., to participate in the ceremony. // Photo by Katja Tunkkari

The Longest Walk was initially launched by the American Indian Movement in 1978. It was initiated in response to bills brought before Congress that would’ve abolished treaties between Native American nations and the American government.

Since 1978, there have been several renditions of the Longest Walk. They have included the Longest Walk 2, which aimed to bring attention to the need for the protection of Native American sacred sites in 2008. The Longest Walk 3 was an effort to address the diabetes epidemic within Native American communities in 2011. 

The walk will employ a spiritual, educational and community-building approach as it makes its way across the continent, according to its mission statement. It will also collect data regarding domestic violence and alcohol addiction within Native American communities in order to find solutions, Wallace said in his opening address.

Also participating in the march are several supporters who will be responsible for data collection as the Longest Walk 5.3 makes its way across the United States.

The data will serve to help Native American Tribes support programs that address domestic violence and substance abuse, Jessica Houseman-Whitehawk, a data collector, said. It will also be used to compile a report that will be sent to Congress in the effort of implementing legislature that will reduce the impact of these issues on Native American tribes.

Houseman-Whitehawk said she had a close relationship with Dennis Banks, having known him since she was a young girl.

Having earned a college degree in statistics, Houseman-Whitehawk aims to implement a quantitative and qualitative data collecting approach in the form of surveys in order to complement the data that Banks and his supporters already collected.

Houseman-Whitehawk continues to support the Longest Walk after Banks’ passing.

“I just really believe in, and I’ve witnessed, the beautiful things that the walk has done for people. Inspiration and empowerment for the people. I’m just really happy to be a part of it,” Houseman-Whitehawk said.


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