Longest Walk, prayer walk for Native prisoners in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
(Photo: Longest Walk Northern Route carries the prayer to the US Penitentiary in Lewisburg, where Leonard Peltier is imprisoned, remembering all Native prisoners. Walkers are shown across from the 24-hour prayer vigil. Please double click to enlarge. Photo Brenda Norrell)
By Brenda Norrell
LEWISBURG, Penn. -- The Longest Walk Northern Route carried the prayer walk to the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Saturday, June 28, 2008. Walkers remembered Leonard Peltier, and Native prisoners everywhere, during the walk and 24-hour prayer vigil, held on a grassy mound at a busy intersection on the route to the prison. Although walkers had hoped that some walkers would be able to visit Peltier and other prisoners, prison officials said the prisoner visit request forms were not submitted. Still, walkers held their prayer walk and vigil, praying for Native prisoners and other inmates, offering special prayers for the victims of injustice and oppression. Walkers carried their prayer to the gates of the prison. Earthcycles' Longest Walk Talk Radio broadcast live from the vigil site, with interviews with walkers.
The walk, which left Alcatraz Island in California on Feb. 11, offered prayers and ceremonial songs for Native prisoners, praying for family members and friends during the walk and vigil. The walkers were camped at McCall's Dam State Park for two nights.
On the first night, the walkers' support truck carrying the food, sleeping bags and tents ran out of gas on the way here from south central Pennsylvania. Many of the walkers, numbering about 50, slept on the damp ground with no sleeping bag or tents. There was no food for dinner and breakfast was a few cans of Vienna Sausage, a can of fruit cocktail and a package of tofu hot dogs scrounged from support vehicles.
The next morning, Jerry Thunder Cloud McDonald, St. Regis Mohawk, and his wife Jeannie McDonald, Taino, rounded up donations from local stores. (If you would like to donate to the northern route for emergency gas and food, please give donations directly to the on site accountant, Sharon Heta, as this is the only way to ensure funds will reach the northern route walkers. To send funds, Sharon Heta: 650-417-4389.)
At McCall's Dam, walkers enjoyed a flowing creek and warm fires, with Navajo stew and fry bread on Saturday night, thanks to the family of walker Craig Luther, Navajo, who arrived from Richfield, Utah. The state parks of Pennsylvania are free for the walkers, following support and a proclamation from Gov. Edward Rendell. The parks have all been beautiful, in the lush woods with lakes for swimming. A couple of bears have even wandered by.
On the Longest Walk Northern Route, Brenda Norrell
Message from Leonard Peltier
June 26, 2008 Greetings my relatives, I say relatives because you are all my family. I am honored, greatly honored today that you would listen to my words and come together in this way so that our future generations’ will not forget what happened here in this land. You can't imagine how much I miss walking on the bare earth. Or brushing against a tree branch or hearing birds in the morning or seeing an antelope or deer cross my path. I have been here in federal prison for 32 years; if you could imagine being in your own home stuck in one room for one year without leaving it, multiply that by 32 and you might have some idea of how imprisonment plays on your feelings. I really get tired sometimes living here in this cell, this prison. Yet at times I feel really good because for some reason I know that there are those out there who have prayed for me in some way. And it helps me because there are moments when a peaceful feeling will wash over me in my solitude. I try to keep up with world events like the war in Iraq, where those people are going through the same thing our Indian people went through and over the same things. The US wants their resources and they have divided those people against each other. Those children over there and families for generations will still feel the effects of that onslaught of destruction. When I look at our own people’s situation I see a people who have not recovered from the destruction put upon them in the past. Today, the greater society of America doesn't want to accept us for who we are because we will always stand as a reminder of the immoral wrongs that they do and have done all over the world, all in the name of technology and progress. Our people have told them from the very beginning about the consequences of mistreatment of individuals and mistreatment of Mother Earth. There are history books that quote our chief headmen and medicine people cautioning them about there destruction of the earth and nature. We know the first concentration camps America ever had held Indian prisoners. The first biological warfare was used on our people with poisonous blankets. The first atomic bomb dropped was dropped on Indian land in Nevada. Today there are abandoned uranium quarries in Navajo country that cause genetic defects on a lot of their people. When you look into the past, America has used us Indians as their social experiment. They tried to destroy us with boarding schools, relocation, and even the first slavery practice was with American people. However Indian people would fight or commit suicide than to become slaves, and so they imported Africans. Forgive me if I am repeating things you already know, but I just wanted to bring these things up because these are the reasons behind the Wounded Knee takeover in 73 happened and the shootout at Oglala happened. Our people were not just taking a stand against this government for themselves; they in essence represented Indian people all across the Americas. Our resistance wasn't to kill anyone; our resistance was to remain alive while we let the world know what had been and what was being done to us, the Indigenous people. I know for a fact from communication all around the world, that we Indian people inspired many other indigenous people to stand up and defend themselves because of our actions. I have gotten letters from all over the world where people said “if the native Americans can stand up to people like that being in the belly of the beast, surely we can do likewise in some way. I recognize that my being here isn't all about me; my continued imprisonment in essence serves as a warning to others willing to stand up for their people. The US has violated their own constitution they violated the treaties we had with them, they violated all kinds of moralities to bring about my conviction. The average non Indian American either doesn't know or couldn't care less. As long as they can keep their high standard of living our struggles mean nothing to them. Most recently other nations have raised the issues of America’s mistreatment of the people in the concentration camp in Guantanamo; issues of lack of a fair trial, issues of physical, mental abuse and of sanctioned torture of prisoners. I want to also mention that our people were the first to be tortured by this government and we were the first to be victims of scalping by the Europeans. The colonizers were paying for our men, woman and children’s scalps. I may sound angry in what I am saying, but all this goes back to why we are here today. We must not forget what has happened in the past but we must also find a way to heal from those things that have happened and be stronger in the future. We need to heal our families; we need to heal our family’s structures so that what happened to our people in the past can't happen to us again. For several generations our children were shipped off to boarding schools which destroyed their understanding of family and family responsibilities, and you think of the statistics today facing this, they don't have to kill us anymore with guns, our children and adults both are killing themselves. Again, like I said before we have not healed from the destruction that was put upon us, I know each one of us can be better than what we are, it takes effort, it takes getting back to our ceremonies, it takes getting back to our respect for one another, the earth, the Creator and our respect for our brothers’ and sisters’ vision. It takes men being men and being strong fathers and uncles and grandfathers and brothers, not just as a matter of birth but as a matter of responsible behavior. It also takes our women to stand as the strong mothers they were meant to be and the sisters, grandmothers and aunties. We need to repair ourselves and not wait for some grant from the government to tell us or guide us in our recovery. We need to take that responsibility ourselves and mend the sacred hoop. Again I want to say as I have said many times in the past, though my body is locked into this cell, my heart and soul is with you today. In closing I would like to acknowledge the great loss of my brother Floyd Westerman, a tireless advocate for Indigenous rights I’m sure that he as well as many others, who like him devoted their time and energies to better the conditions our people face, are here with us today in spirit. We have no guarantees of the time of our own passing but until that time or my time I will miss them greatly as I miss you my family. Be kind to one another, and remember my words; for I have spoken to you from my heart of hearts. And you will always be in my prayers. In the spirit of Crazy Horse and every Indian man or person that stood for their people, Doksha Leonard Peltier # 89637-132 USP Lewisburg US Penitentiary P.O. Box 1000 Lewisburg, PA 17837-1000