This Day In History: July 15

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On July 15, 1978, the “Longest Walk”—a 2,800-mile trek for Native American justice that had started with several hundred marchers in California—ends in Washington, D.C., accompanied by thousands of supporters. The intent of the event was to call attention to issues affecting Native Americans, such as a lack of jobs and housing, and legislation before Congress that could dramatically change their rights.

The route of marchers and their supporters took them past the White House. Some carried the flags of Indian nations. Native Americans camped on the Washington Monument grounds. While in the nation’s capital, they held rallies and meetings at the Capitol, Supreme Court and White House.

Native Americans of many different tribes were especially concerned about proposed legislation that would eliminate treaties and shut down federal programs for hospitals, schools and housing projects. The proposed legislation also would eliminate Native American reservations and end hunting and fishing rights in areas outside reservations.

A march coordinator said the proposed legislation would “destroy the American Indian way of life.”

“We are the original of the people of this country,” Native American Phillip Deer, a march organizer, said at a rally. “We are the original residents of the Western Hemisphere."

“We will pray for this confused society,” Deer continued. “We will pray for the FBI informers in our midst. For our oppressors in their offices, we will pray also.”

Actor Marlon Brando told the gathering that President Jimmy Carter should not criticize human rights policies of foreign nations while the U.S. government continues to oppress Native Americans. “The original people of this country were swindled, were murdered like animals,” he said.

None of the bills affecting Native American rights passed in Congress.

In 2008, another “Longest Walk” to advance Native American rights culminated in Washington.