MAXTON — Dennis Banks is no stranger to the struggle to protect and advance the rights of American Indian across the country.
Over the years, the American Indian activist who co-founded the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s has led the fight to protect land rights, guarantee that traditional American Indian culture and values are taught in schools, and that American Indians are treated fairly under the law.
Banks has spent the last few days in neighboring Robeson County, a stop that he and a group of about 50 natives from across the United States made during the “Longest Walk 5,” a 3,600-mile walk across the country. The walk began in San Diego on Feb. 13 and is scheduled to end in Washington, D.C. on July 15.
The group made a stop in Maxton where the members of the Tuscarora Tribe feed participants.
Banks, teacher, lecturer, activist and author, is an Anishinaabe born on Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.
He called the walk a way to bring attention to the issues of drug abuse and domestic violence in Indian communities. It was his fifth major cross-country walk aimed at bringing attention to American Indian issues.
“We are losing our children as young as 13 to 17 years old,” he said. “… It is going to take all of us to bring the drug war to an end. We may not see it in our lifetime, I know I won’t see it in mine. But I want to be part of ending this war.”
Although originally planned to only focus on drug abuse, Banks said that after his granddaughter was killed as a result of domestic violence, he added that issue as a focus of the march.
Banks told a gathering at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s entrepreneurship incubator that drug abuse and domestic violence lead to thousands of deaths among American Indian annually.
Banks said that drug abuse in Indian communities is especially prominent among young people.
Mike Chavis, a retired sergeant with the N.C. Highway Patrol and recovered alcoholic, suggested that churches throughout the county be more receptive to opening their doors to AAA groups wanting to use their facilities for meetings. Chavis is the founder of the AAA group that meets weekly at the Prospect United Methodist Church.
Timothy Jacobs, who said he was representing the Tuscarora Tribe, said that drug problems will not be solved until “corruption” is addressed.
“We all know businesses that were built by the cocaine empire. We all know people that are corrupt today,” he said. “We can’t turn our eyes to what is going on.”
According to Banks, whatever steps are taken to resolve problems with such issues as drug abuse and domestic violence must be taken with all tribes remembering their culture and roots.
“Mother Earth will lead us and take care of us,” he said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.