JEFFERSONVILLE — A group of several dozen people, including representatives from Native American tribes across the country, passed through Jeffersonville on Monday on the Longest Walk 5.2, part of an annual tradition to raise awareness on important issues.
Bobby Wallace, national chief of the Longest Walk 5.2, from the Barona Band of Mission Indians of the Kumeyaay Nation from the mountains of San Diego, said the walk to him means getting on the ground, talking to people about the problems they have and discussing solutions together.
“It means we get in the trenches and we see what's really happening across the United States,” he said. “We see the real problems. It's time for our people — all walks of life — to wake up and smell the coffee, because this land is getting polluted, the water is getting polluted, [and] we're in a bad direction right now. We're in a downward spiral. We're the only ones who can make changes.”
This year's walk, aptly named, is the the longest of three sections of the country Native Americans and others traverse in alternating years. This year they cross the Midwestern states, walking from San Francisco in February and culminating in Washington, D.C., on July 15, to raise awareness of domestic violence and drug addiction issues among tribes and people as a whole.
“For me, it's important because I've seen how drug abuse has ruined so many of our Native American homes,” Vanessa Dundon, known as Sioux Z Dezbah, said Monday. “Not just for Native Americans but for all races. Nobody deserves to get hurt.”
Harry Goodwolf Kindness, one of six chiefs of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, said the walks are an important way to reach other people and bring awareness to situations that can affect all.
“Knowledge is power,” he said. “This domestic violence and spousal abuse, it happens everywhere — affects the family, even animals get affected by somebody that's abusing people in the family.
“The drugs, alcohol, are a contributing factor. [This is] to get the word out to say there is a better way.”
But the people walking wanted to bring attention to more, including the importance of protecting the environment and working to get access to better health care.
“It's only taken industrial America 100 years to put us in this state, so we have to fight for it,” Goodwolf Kindness said.
Some members of the group that passed through Jeffersonville had also participated in demonstrations at Standing Rock, speaking out against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Dezbah said she lost vision in one eye after being shot by law enforcement with a teargas cannon. She also said she's involved in a class-action lawsuit over what happened at Standing Rock.
“...People were peaceful,” she said. “And the government [came in] in malicious style [to] keep us from out First Amendment rights to stand there and be prayerful and protest.”
The health care coverage she has through Indian healthcare services and Arizona medicaid, Dezbah said, are not enough. She said she believes she fell through the cracks in the system; she needed to get surgery within 72 hours and it took a month.
“Part of our [Native American] treaty agreements were in exchange for health care” she said. "And ... our healthcare failed me.”
As the group continues toward D.C., they may drop off some participants and pick up others to make the journey with them. But Goodwolf Kindness said it's about unity — working together to help all.
“My motto is 'one planet, one people,'” he said. “We are all caretakers of Mother Earth and we must all do our part.”