As Dennis Banks sat at the Coharie Tribal Center Wednesday, he took a moment to reflect on the past — a past that’s full of tradition and the rich history of the Native American people.
Once imprisoned for fighting for the rights of Native Americans, Banks has spent the last 48 years traveling across the country continuing to fight a battle for himself and his Native people.
“This land, the same land that is found here, is the same land that is found in the six nations,” Banks said. “Today, I am part Coharie.”
Banks, who was born on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota and is a member of the Ojibwa tribe, paid a visit to the Coharie tribe as part of his journey across the United States in what has been named the Longest Walk 5. The Native American leader, teacher, lecturer, activist and author, is founder of the American Indian Movement, which fights to protect the rights of the Indian people.
Throughout his 79 years of life, Banks has walked across the country seven times. With a little age on him now, the activist doesn’t walk the journey any longer, but is very active in spreading awareness about the rights of the Native American people and fighting for those rights to remain intact.
Wednesday’s celebration began as a convoy of people walked into the tribal grounds as a crowd of supporters and tribal members greeted them before inviting them into the tribe’s home. The journey Wednesday began in Pembroke in Robeson County, after Banks and his fellow walkers spent a few days with the members of the Lumbee tribe. Thursday morning the trek continued north to the Haliwa-Saponi tribe in Halifax and Warren counties.
“Our minds have forgotten how many years we have known each other,” chief Gene Jacobs said. “You have walked the same land our elders before us walked on.”
As part of the Native American tradition, Jacobs blessed the grounds and ceremony with sage before beginning the ceremony meant to honor the man who has spent so much of his life fighting for the rights of the Indian people.
Ryan Dial, a member of the Lumbee tribe, spoke a prayer in the Iroquois language that gave thanks to the creator and Mother Earth for the land of the Coharie people.
The American Indian Movement, which was started in 1968 by Banks, began after the native leader was imprisoned, for the purpose of protecting the Native American traditions and the ways of the Indian people. Over the last decade, Banks has walked across the country spreading word of the movement.
Banks was welcomed by the Smokey River drummers through traditional Native American drumming and singing.
“Every time we hear a drum, we become part of that drum,” Banks shared. “We are a part of this earth. The earth is our mother. We are all the things of the earth.”
Banks and his walkers are focusing their journey on bringing awareness to the problem of drug addiction and domestic violence among the native people. While in prison, Banks said he met a lot of Native Americans, from many different tribes, who were sitting behind bars because of poor choices and not having the foundation they needed to overcome the many obstacles they faced in life.
“When one person falls, we all fall,” Banks said. “Sometimes we turn our backs on our people who are down and out. We are brothers and sisters. We don’t need to abandon these people.”
Once Banks was released from prison, he said he went door to door, knocking and inviting those who would answer to a meeting.
“People came because they heard that cry for valor,” Banks said.
From that meeting, the American Indian Movement was formed and Banks has walked more than 3,000 miles to continue fighting for the Native American people.
“I may not be able to walk like I once did,” Banks said, “but I will never give up.”
The highest honor someone can receive in life, according to Native American tradition, is an eagle feather. Banks was presented with that honor Wednesday night by Greg Jacobs, tribal administrator.
“The feather is the universal signal of honesty, love and great honor,” Banks said. “This is who we are.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.