BY MICHELLE SIMON
Participants of the Longest Walk: We Shall Continue stopped at the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation to share their mission and 11 talking points with the community.
The Longest Walk: We Shall Continue was initiated by the Indigenous Peoples Movement, as a means to address major threats to American Indian and Indigenous Peoples and Nations. The current spiritual walk began with a ceremony on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California on February 11, 2019, and will commence in July in Washington, D.C. at the Washington National Monument. The first Longest Walk was held in 1978.
A five-member contingent arrived at the Old Bingo Hall on Tuesday afternoon and shared stories of their collective journey and participated in a dialogue with members of the PBPN Tribal Council and community members.
Following are the 11 talking points. Visit the Indigenous Peoples Movement for more information.
11 Talking Points
Courtesy of the Indigenous Peoples Movement
1) Support Indian Children: The Indian Child Welfare Act is supposed to protect Indian children from being taken away from their Nations. It was recently found to be
unconstitutional in Brakeen v Zinke. The ruling was based on state rights, ignoring tribal
sovereignty, and viewing Indian status as racial only, and not based on the legal/political
relationship between Indian Nations and the United States government. If this is upheld at
the Supreme Court, Indian children will be fair game for states in collusion with private
adoption agencies to legally kidnap Indian children. The grounds of the ruling would
also open the doors to usher in a new era of Termination, annihilating Tribal Sovereignty.
Further, over 14,000 children are being held in prison camps on the southern border of
the United States, most of whom are Indigenous. These children are virtually forgotten,
and pressure needs to happen so this crime against humanity is stopped.
2) Honor Indigenous Women: Respect and protection for Mother Earth is a common
principle for Indigenous Peoples and Nations. Indigenous Women have been at the
forefront and heart of every single struggle to protect and preserve our lands, waters,
families and nations in this regard. Yet Indigenous women are still marginalized and are
subject to abuse, rape and murder. As Indigenous nations we are committed to actively
change this state of affairs. There can be no protection of Mother Earth if there is no
protection of Indigenous Women. Collectively, we must create and develop ways of
honoring Indigenous Women by way of men taking responsibility to stop the abuse and
rape in our communities, and to bring to justice those engaged in committing these
3) Strengthen Inherent and Indigenous Sovereignty: Nation-states, including the United States, are undermining inherent sovereignty and self-government by relegating self-government to nothing more than self-management. Corporate and municipal
structures are the structures of choice. This is nothing more than Termination under
various guises. The nation-states of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United
States have formed an alliance called CANZUS that coordinate together in advancing a
common public policy objective to achieve this goal. We re-affirm our unwavering
commitment to the assertion of our inherent sovereignty and self-government as
Indigenous Nations, in a way that is inclusive of our own laws, values, customs and
traditions. Indigenous Sovereignty is not defined by non-Indigenous laws, rules and
regulations; nor by economic development, good governance, and corporate structures.
These elements may be pragmatic, but they do not define us. We also specifically support
tribal sovereignty and the relationship between Indian Nations and the United States as
being nation to nation and not merely government to government as it is often wrongfully
characterized. Underlying all of this is a long history of a bilateral, bi-cultural
relationship based not on equality but rather on principles of equitability. This means
that the relationship recognizes each other as being of the same status, but maintain their
distinct identities. Indigenous ideals relating to sovereignty are not just about power and
control but are also about responsibility and respect. This places obligations on
Indigenous Nation citizens to practice traditional and customary responsibilities, rooted
in Indigenous Knowledge, including the protection of our relationships with our
respective lands, waters, animals and plants. This concept of Indigenous Sovereignty has
been severely challenged by a long history of manifest destiny, genocide, and land loss. It
is essential that we as Indigenous Nations actively reassert the practice of Indigenous
Sovereignty on the one hand while mounting challenges legally and politically on the
4) Create an Environmental Covenant: As Indigenous Peoples, we have a responsibility to be caretakers for the environment. That responsibility falls upon our respective Indigenous nations regardless of contrary nation-state policies and laws. We, therefore, commit to the creation of an Environmental Protection Covenant to be agreed to by Indigenous Nations that set minimal standards in regards to any developments on or in watersheds and traditional territories surrounding our respective Nations.
5) Repeal Public Law 280 and Overturn the Plenary Power Doctrine: Public Law 280 is a relic from the Termination era of the 1950s. It gives criminal and civil jurisdiction over certain Indian Nations to certain states. We support the repeal of this law and expect appropriate resources to be provided to transition back to Indian Nation jurisdiction. The
Plenary Power doctrine is a legacy of judicial racism that was established in a legal
decision called US v. Kagama (1886). Under this doctrine, Congress has unilateral
authority over Indian Nations. The Dawes Allotment Act, the Termination policies, and
all the other acts of Congress against Indian Nations since this time have been done under
the Plenary Power doctrine, where Indian Nations cannot legally contest the
constitutionality of these acts. Recognized Indian sovereignty literally exists at the whim
of Congress. In these times, this is especially worrying. We are committed to asserting
our sovereignty despite any actions by Congress that would otherwise be
unconstitutional, and to developing strategies to overturn this racist doctrine.
6) Land and Waters Clean Up and Protection: Indian lands have long been considered a dumping ground by various corporations and government agencies. For example, one of the worst nuclear accidents in the United States was the Churchrock uranium mill tailings breach on the Navajo Nation in 1979. Thirty-eight (38) years later the area still has not been adequately cleaned up, and people and livestock are still exposed to contaminated water. We acknowledge that 500 million has been allocated to clean up some of the damage from uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, there is a real concern that this and other environmental cleanup funds will be cut under the current administration. Further, the environmental racism inherent in the inadequate funding and acknowledgment of harm to the environment that impacts upon Indigenous Peoples needs to be stopped. We call for the creation of a Superfund dedicated to address this historical neglect in all nation-states, clean up our lands and waters, and create policies to prevent them from being contaminated again.
7) Treaties, Lands, and Customary Responsibilities: In the United States, Indian Nation authority does not just extend to the boundaries of the reservation, it extends over the respective traditional territories. This includes treaty lands and un-ceded lands taken without consent. This authority extends not only to hunting, fishing, food and medicine
gathering but also to our sacred sites and protection of our watersheds. Any process of
consultation is always going to be inadequate because it means that the ultimate authority
will always rest with non-Indians. We are more than capable of understanding and
making decisions on development issues in our traditional areas. We also note the recent
decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia 2014 SCC 22 (2014). In this case, the Tsilhqot’in Nation was found to have proved that they had retained aboriginal title over a large part of their traditional territory and were therefore found to have consent authority over timber harvesting in this area. We assert that the same principle should be adopted here in the United States, recognizing the consent authority of Indian Nations for developments impacting upon hunting and fishing rights and responsibilities, food and medicine gathering rights and responsibilities and engaging with sacred sites and Ceremonial grounds.
8) Strengthen and Assert Spiritual Freedom: The legal assaults on Indian spiritual beliefs and practices have increased over the last few decades. Despite the American Indian Religious Freedom Act 1978 requiring federal agencies to respect Indian spiritual
practices, these same agencies ignore and actively oppress Indian spiritual practices. For
example, the US Army Corps of Engineers, in supporting the DAPL pipeline, actively
supported the Morton County Sheriff Department in preventing Indian people from
praying on land under their alleged jurisdiction. Much of the militarized action
undertaken against Water Defenders was in fact in areas under alleged federal
jurisdiction and primarily involved suppressing freedom of religion. There are also a
number of court decisions, such as Lyng v Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection
Association (1988) which creates a weaker standard for First Amendment protection of
Indian spiritual beliefs and practices. We are committed to actively asserting out spiritual
ways in our lands, whether on or off-reservation and see this as an essential
responsibility. We will assert these responsibilities on our sacred sites and Ceremonial
grounds as part of a living practice, and not as some relic of the past.
9) Indigenous Knowledge: Indigenous Knowledge which includes our spiritual ways,
language, customs, traditional values, social structures, law, political structures and
though are the very heart of who we are, is under significant threat. Basically,
corporations and nation-states who have for generations attacked, undermined and
minimized Indigenous Knowledge are now creating definitions which recognize it on
their terms and in their context as a property right. What should never be defined under
non-Indigenous ways of thought, is now being defined in various United Nations forums
and such, in ways to foster development. This is really obvious on issues relating to
carbon trading and carbon credits. To protect Indigenous Knowledge we advocate for a
definition that is from a completely Indigenous Peoples perspective that is outside of
property law. Without such a stand, those seeking to impose development projects upon
Indigenous Peoples will be in a position to acknowledge that Indigenous Knowledge is
harmed by the development, and can be taken with property compensation provisions.
10) Just Transition: The current economic system is not doing enough to address major
environmental issues such as climate change. Often, Indigenous nations and
communities are at the front end of development projects that cause harm. Just
Transition is a way of finding ways to create sustainable economies of scale that focuses
on renewable energy, and community health and well being.
11) Alcohol and Other Drugs: Alcohol and Other Drugs have played a major role in the
subjugation of our Peoples and Nations. Alcohol, heroin and methamphetamines, to
name but a few, continue to wreak havoc and devastation. There is a need to strengthen
our collective commitment to stop this cycle of addiction and abuse, that leads to
shattered families and communities.