‘The Longest Walk’ American Indian Movement makes stop in Nevada
This story was first published in the March 2017 edition of First Nation's Focus.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — From the words of an Ojibwa man, it’s human to be addicted to all kinds of things, such as money, jobs—something.
But sometimes, those addictions can cause major issues and are in need of spiritual assistance, especially when it comes to domestic violence and drug abuse.
That insight comes from Ray Muckuk of Ontario, Canada, whom is walking across the United States with a group of 40 to help spread awareness, and educate the public about the dangers of substance abuse and domestic violence.
It’s otherwise known as “The Longest Walk.”
“We want to encourage everyone they can get through addictions, too,” he said. “I’m a recovering addict going on 10 years of sobriety. I went back to school, graduated, and now I’m giving back.”
American Indian activists and supporters have done these walks for the last 39 years. Each year, they pick a section of the country to travel across and speak with tribal leaders, law enforcement, religious organizations and community members to discuss solutions to combat issues such as drugs and violence. Discussions also include handling other life challenges, whether it’s physical or mental health.
The group has been on foot since Feb. 12 from San Francisco, on their way to Washington, D.C., to present countrywide gathered results on these issues. The team consists of diversity from all over the world, from American Indian supporters to a variety of tribes.
They pass out surveys to each community regarding their experience with the topics. They do this at every stop until they get to Washington, to present the statistics at the annual rally July 15, at Lincoln Memorial.
Muckuk quit his job in Minnesota — where he was doing security and medical support for a homeless shelter — to participate in the walks annually.
“It’s amazing what you pick up along the way,” Muckuk said. “There are problems all across the U.S., not just at reservations.”
Sharing the purpose in Nevada
Although traveling over the Sierras was the most difficult part of the trip so far, the group braved Nevada’s wrath of snowstorms and arrived in Carson City on Feb. 23.
They spent the weekend at Carson Colony Recreation Department, on South Curry Street.
For some, it was their first visit to Carson City and they hope to make stops in the city again in the future.
“I’ve heard about this town in movies and books,” Muckuk said. “It’s a beautiful place. It seems diverse and I’m no stranger to winter. I love the ski hills, the air and the community.”
“The walk open to all community members to show why we are here,” said Kid Valence, run captain. “We want to network enough to a point where we can return for our next walk.”
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of The Longest Walk, and the 50th anniversary of the American Indian Movement. The planned trail for 2018 goes across the northern part of the country.
During the journey, they hope to encourage people to join them, even if it’s just for a few miles.
The purpose has an even deeper meaning, especially for Native American Tribes. Originally, the walk was designed to help only those in tribes but once participants discovered that drug abuse and domestic violence spread beyond reservations, it inspired the movement to broaden the education.
“Last year, we focused education with wellness and holistic centers,” said longtime participant GinaMarie Quinones. “But after looking at the data we gathered from our travels last year, we knew it would be crucial to include education about how drugs influence domestic violence.”
Based off of statistics, the influence of drug abuse and violence spreads like a virus; victims of domestic violence are at a higher risk for developing addictions to alcohol or other drugs. This leads to a dramatic increase in violent crime, suicide, and child neglect —therefore, restoring the vicious cycle on others.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, nationally Native Americans have the highest rates of methamphetamine abuse, which violent crimes are attributable to the drug 40 percent of the time.
Another study by Amnesty International showed one in three women around the world suffer from abuse, but Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be abused.
As for Nevada, the state’s history of staggering results in drug abuse and overdose throughout the years pursued the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, passed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2015.
But as for statewide results involving residents, regardless of race or beliefs, it broadens. A March 2016 report from Everytown Research showed Nevada ranked fifth for domestic violence involving guns, while 65 percent of that statistic includes women, whom are more likely to be shot and killed by spouses or partners.
Some of the members in the group have been affected personally by drug abuse or domestic violence. When the group arrived in Carson City, Muckuk received a text message from a family member about his nephew — who was battling a drug addiction — had died from overdose that night.
Valence experienced something similar; his 26-year-old nephew also died two years ago in Kentucky, from a heroin overdose.
To heal time, Valence writes poetry and songs relating to these struggles. He distributes copies of lyrics to each community the group visits during the walk.
“There’s no time to waste about this message,” he said. “It’s our main focus. All life is sacred, whether it’s ecological or physiological.”
Maria Rodriguez, event coordinator for the walk, is determined to fully complete the trail. Last year, she was unable to complete the entire southern trail after the group stopped in New Mexico.
That’s where she reconnected with her distant mother. “She left me when I was three,” Rodriguez said. “I was on my own for most of my childhood and teen years. It’s one of the reasons why I was encouraged to do this walk. It takes two generations to break the cycle; it’s possible to overcome obstacles and anyone can get through it.”
Rodriguez is carrying her family’s staff in her hand — and isn’t giving up until she reaches the finish line in Washington.
The route ahead
As emotions are running high with fires and protests of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, the group plans to make a stop there in between April and May.
“It’s not just an environmental issue,” Valence said. “It’s also a human rights issue. The situation may change by the time we get there, but we’ll change our route down a faster trail there, if something happens.”
“The entire movement is positive and inspiring,” Quinones said. “But the world continues to change and now it’s time to join forces to represent each of our communities.”
The group has already gone through Fallon and Austin. From there, it’s Eureka, then to Twin Falls, Idaho — before hitting Standing Rock.
“We need more community involvement in our walks before we get to D.C.,” said Arthur Jacobs, web editor of Native News Online. “It helps us document our journey.”
National Chief Bobby Wallace said enough is enough – there’s too much drug abuse and domestic violence in the country, and communities should be motivated to come together.
“Grab my hand and we’ll step in the darkness together,” he said. “We’re people who care; it’s time to help heal their families and themselves.”
Although they have about 2,600 miles to go–along with blisters, aches, and some heartbreak–nothing is stopping the group to their destination, for a cause.
To learn more about the walk and signing up for future events, visit longestwalk.us.
Donations also are being accepted through GoFundMe, to support the journey, gofundme.com/n9qbmvn2.
Follow The Long Walk blog by visiting nativenewsonline.net.
USDA Rural Development Nevada State Director Phil Cowee said he is pleased to have the Washoe Tribe as one of 47 communities included in the national program.