MOUNT CARMEL — For a brief moment, southern Illinois and Indiana were a part of a historic journey of the Longest Walk 5.2.
Native American tribes from across the nation left the San Francisco area Feb. 12 with one goal in mind: bringing an end to substance and domestic abuse. The walk will end with a week of advocacy in Washington D.C. July 15.
The walk, a part of the American Indian Movement, not only brings attention to the issues facing the country today, but also collects data along the way.
Michael Bockting, a veteran from English, Indiana, and the Midwest coordinator for the walk, led the group to the Wabash Valley College outdoor amphitheater, where they shared their joys, concerns and prayers on Monday.
Chief Bobby Wallace and his brother, Chief Harry Goodwolf Kindness, began to share their story.
"We are on this walk calling for an end to drug abuse and domestic violence," Wallace said. "We are trying to make a difference for people across this country."
The walk hasn't always been easy because of the weather and other unpredictable circumstances, he continued.
"It's been quite a journey. We've been through deep snow, just made it through where dams are broke, lots of rain and thunderstorms — you name it, this group has been through it all. But it has been a blessing," he said.
It was a toasty 83 degrees in Mount Carmel that morning, and temperatures were only going to rise as the Longest Walk 5.2 made its way to Princeton and Oakland City.
In addition to expressing the damages of drug, alcohol and domestic abuse, Chief Harry Goodwolf Kindness spoke about the abuse of the planet.
"Mother Earth is crying for our help," he said. "Everyone has to do their part. Everyone has to pull together and do what they need to do. One planet — one people."
The Longest Walk advocated for the environment earlier this year, as its route through the central United States was diverted by a call to action at Standing Rock, during the pipeline protests.
Walking in the scorching heat and humidity may seem difficult enough, yet there are five to ten long distance runners in the group as well. Run Captain Kid Valence said they keep going for a number of reasons.
"Every step a prayer, every mile a ceremony — we have been carrying this message in prayer specifically about the dangers of drug addiction, alcohol addiction and domestic violence," he said. "We are fueled by the hopes and the dreams and the prayers of so many people across the country — to try to get our country back, to get our people back from the drug addiction and cycles of violence."
After several members of the group spoke, a young woman sang a traditional song with drums. The song sounded both melancholy and determined at the same time, almost mirroring the Longest Walk's mission.
The first Longest Walk was held in 1978, which aimed to support tribal sovereignty and draw attention to opposing legislation.
"We are the only ones who can change the future — it's a pivotal time in history right now," Chief Bobby Wallace said. We need to stand together and stick together because we are all the same. Instead of being enemies, we need to show the love, we need to show the kindness."
More information about the Longest Walk 5.2 and other past walks can be found at longestwalk.us.