Native Americans to walk 3,946 miles to end drug abuse and domestic violence

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The song runs repetitive, with words like silver charms sweetly dangling in the wind waiting to take a turn for stormy tonalities with stronger vibrancy and that’s when you see the women willowing more and the crescendo of the male voices and the body motion grow together to tell a story. This is a thousand years old traditional Native American ceremony called “The Bird Songs” of the same style as in Pai Pai Country, all the way to Arizona and Mojave desert,  up to the Grand Canyon and down in Mexico.

The song runs repetitive, with words like silver charms sweetly dangling in the wind waiting to take a turn for stormy tonalities with stronger vibrancy and that’s when you see the women willowing more and the crescendo of the male voices and the body motion grow together to tell a story. This is a thousand years old traditional Native American ceremony called “The Bird Songs” of the same style as in Pai Pai Country, all the way to Arizona and Mojave desert,  up to the Grand Canyon and down in Mexico. The men line up on one side singing and playing the gourds and the women are facing them, willows in the wind, both transcending from profane to sacred, following in the footsteps of their ancestors during this social and spiritual ceremony.

Stanley Rodriguez, doctoral student in educational leadership at UCSD, explains that the women are following the lyrics the way one embarks on a journey and that usually the community does not reveal the meanings of their ceremonial dances and songs out of fear of profiteers and impostors. Rodriguez is getting ready to run 30 miles a day in the Longest Walk to end drug abuse and domestic violence among the Native American tribes. “I ran two marathons last year, of course I can run 30 miles,” after which he refuses to disclose his age.  He is 57 years old and is here at the Barona Cultural Center and Museum in Lakeside to participate in the Longest Walk 5.2 Benefit Concert featuring Tracy Lee Nelson and Paul Cannon. 

This is the second edition of the Longest Walk 5 (LW5) that will cross 13 states, 18 mountain ranges, stop and visit with 53 tribal communities across America along 3,946 miles distance with participants from all over the country and the world, walkers or runners. The Walk will start in San Francisco at 9 am on Sunday, February 12 at 938 Marin Drive, San Francisco, CA. The Longest Walk will be traveling to Standing Rock, North Dakota and will be continuing to Washington D.C. where it will arrive on July 15. 

“Our mission is to cross this continent on foot; seeking cultural and spiritual solutions to end drug abuse and domestic violence,” reads the mission statement issued by Honorary Chief Dennis Banks who started this project last year by initiating a “three phase, three year walk across America.” This year’s National Chief of the Longest Walk is Bobby Wallace who states “ I can attest that most of us have had loss due to drug abuse, domestic violence and suicide,” mentioning that there is “an epidemic that we all face as Native Americans. The LW5 honors the memory of Rose Downwind and targets members of the community in need for help due to the “historical trauma” endured by the Native Americans because of “the US policies of genocide, assimilation and colonialism,” as stated in executive summary of the event.

Data was collected after the first walk last year and the results were staggering, underlining the link between childhood abuse and neglect with “a significant contribution to substance abuse (…) and these complex problems are readily present in all tribal communities surveyed.”

Paul Cannon is an Iipai Kumeyaay musician and song writer who traveled all the way from San Pasqual Indian reservation to play his songs for the local Kumeyaay community in Barona. Cannon confesses that he was a witness of domestic violence as a kid and that kind of trauma leaves long lasting scars, such as “depression, anxiety, insecurity, low self esteem,” and that he wants a better world for his two kids. Hi first song tells the story of his grandfather who drank himself to death and how “grandma had nothing left.” Cannon believes that “it all starts with awareness. The more we acknowledge what is really taking place, the more we can make space in our hearts for the solutions.”  The Kumeyaay singer received a ceremonial gift of a golden eagle feather wrapped in a bandana that symbolizes the highest honor reserved for the member with great contribution to their community.

Afton Johnson is a 26 years old Kumeyaay woman from the Morongo Reservation who is here to volunteer for the event, helping with the Indian tacos and fried bred in the kitchen. She also came to help one of her relatives who is also a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship. “I was in two abusive relationships before,” says Johnson, admitting she doesn’t seek specialized help for her trauma, but instead she would “rather keep myself busy with my kids.” 

The Longest Walk 5, second edition will also stop at Standing Rock to greet and help the tribes protesting the pipeline in Dakota. “Without water, there is no life,” says Melissa Hill from Viejas Reservation, as she flips another delicious traditional fried bred in the sizzling oil. I asked how do you say “water” in the Kumeyaay language and it’s “MIAHA” which means “water above” as in rain, but also the Creator. “Every time you go ask for help, the Creator will send rain for you,” says Hill, explaining that the women dancing came here to give thanks for the recent rain and to pray for the people who will participate in the Longest Walk.

Paul Cannon songs accompanies the event where people from Barona and other Indian reservations gathered to donate for the LW5, pray, preserve their traditions, but most of all, to be together as a community in love and harmony with all there is.

“Just like the eagle, I will always stick around

You are my equal, I will never look down on you

You are my best friend

You’re my divinity.”

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