Native Americans March For Burial, Green Issues

Native Americans held ceremonies on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. this weekend to mark the completion of a five-month walk across the United States. The walkers hope to raise awareness of issues facing Native Americans, from environmental concerns to burial rights.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

30 years ago, thousands of Native Americans marched from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. They successfully lobbied to defeat legislation that would have nullified treaties that protected what remained of Native American sovereignty. This weekend, several hundred Native Americans commemorated the event with a second march they called The Longest Walk Two. NPR's Allison Keyes attended a pow wow yesterday on the National Mall.

(Soundbite of Native American chanting)

ALLISON KEYES: The performers are honoring those who participated in this year's march, which began back in February. Men in kaleidoscopic feathered Native American attire pounding the drums sit alongside others in blue jeans and t-shirts. Some of the crowd wear intricately beaded jewelry. Others, like Catherine Ghosthawk (ph), have only a single golden eagle feather in their hair, but their eyes are shining.

Ms. CATHERINE GHOSTHAWK (Participant, The Longest Walk Two): It's really, really great to do this. It's the biggest thing I've ever been a part of.

KEYES: Ghosthawk brought her two children, ages five and six, along as she walked from Farmington, Pennsylvania. She says her kids, who speak more of the Crow language than English, have run into racism at their predominantly white school. She says this is a way for them to see many tribes working together. Yanicot Franco's (ph) long black hair glints in the sun as she walks between two giant teepees workers are setting up facing the Capitol building.

Ms. YANICOT FRANCO (Participant, The Longest Walk Two): My auntie was on the walk 30 years ago. So I did it for her. I did it for our people, just to raise awareness of these issues going on with the environment, with Mother Earth.

KEYES: Franco says she walked all the way from Alcatraz in San Francisco, where the march started, for peace, justice, health, and to send the message that all life is sacred. Franco's father, Lalo (ph), brings up another issue that concerns many here. He says many Native American dead are on display with their burial finery instead of having been left respectfully within their graves.

Mr. LALO FRANCO (Participant, The Longest Walk Two): If German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans were to know that 29,000 of their people are sitting in a museum, in boxes being probed and studied, there'd be an outcry.

KEYES: Organizer Ricardo Tapia says marchers also want to stop the destruction of their sacred sites due to the construction of malls and housing developments. But he says the most important thing right now is the environment, particularly global warming.

Mr. RICARDO TAPIA (Organizer, The Longest Walk Two): Our legacy should be to leave a healthy planet for our future generations. We're saying this as Native American people because we are guided by our prophecies. We knew about these times.

KEYES: The people gathered in a circle here watching dancers from many tribes hope lawmakers and the public are paying attention. But it's easy to get lost on the National Mall. On the steps of the Capitol, thousands gathered at a rally for former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, while a few blocks west, large white tents for another event shimmered in the Washington sun.

Still, people like Yanicot Franco believe marches like this make a difference. After all, she says, it starts with one and can grow into thousands. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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