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Hiroshima Flame Walk: interview with walkers

8 february 2002 -- a conversation with four of the walkers on the Hiroshima Flame Pilgrimage
On Friday, 8 February, the Hiroshima Flame Pilgrimage arrived in Eugene, Oregon. We spoke to four of the walkers -- Annie, Andy, Derwyn and Tom -- about their experiences so far, including an incident earlier in the day when they were shot at outside Junction City. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation, which took place at Jefferson Middle School in Eugene, where community members held a potluck for the walkers.

indymedia: So why are you on this pilgrimage?

Annie: I felt inside like it would be a really good thing to do. I felt like i had to do it. I wasn't sure at first, but now I think that if you want something to happen, you have to do something about it. You can't just sit around and talk about it. It's really important to have Peace everywhere, for everyone. And I want to do something about it.

indymedia: We've heard you're from Hawai'i. How did you get involved with this walk from Hawai'i?

Annie: I met Jun-san and Mich and a few other people around Pearl Harbor Day in December. They were fasting outside the Arizona Memorial and chanting and beating their drums and I talked to them and decided that I wanted to walk. [The Arizona Memorial marks the spot in Pearl Harbor where the U.S.S. Arizona sank after being bombed by the Japanese during World War II. -ed.]

indymedia: Why are you here, Tom?

Tom: Because i am trying to find out what my mission is in life. (smiles.)

indymedia: Getting anywhere with that?

Tom: Not really. It's not easy to say why you do anything really. some people believe they know, and think they have all the answers, but I know I don't have the answers so I just pray.

Andy: I came to cover the pilgrimage for Indymedia and there was something in the walk that just called me and said I had to be here.

Annie: (to Andy) On the first day you got eggs thrown at you and you decided that's what you wanted to do!

Andy: That's right.

Tom: Someone tried to shoot us today.

Annie: We were just walking and someone shot their gun.

Andy: We were walking out of Junction City on the road and there were a bit more hostile people there than other places. At some point we heard a really close rifle shot off. After that some people in an SUV or a jeep were flipping us off. We saw a confederate flag in a tree.

Annie: It was the most negative place we've walked. I like what Derwyn said. He doesn't care if they're holding up the peace sign or half of the peace sign, he just likes to stir up some energy.

Tom: I would like to make a statement on this walk. It's important to say something about indiginous people, which is hard for most people in this country to understand; I'm trying to make this thing understood by americans, but it is really hard to talk to americans. It's easier to play dumb as a native person in this country because that's acceptable. Being smart is dangerous. When people ask questions, I always answer dumb. You never know who's asking questions, after all.

Andy: You've got to get your message across, though.

Tom: I've been shot at, in jail, in exile from my home for twenty years. I'm not doing this out of stupidity. This needs to be understood by the native community first. We learned that we can't depend on anyone else but our own people. "Only Indians help Indians" -- that's been the experience of native peoples in this country. We are living under a government where the Nazis won. In Germany, the Nazis lost, but they won here. Anything we say or do has to be subservient to the people in power. If you try to be disruptive, the government is not forgiving.

Annie: For the native people in Hawai'i, these are issues too. My mom is really invoved in native Hawai'ian sovreignty. When people think of native people in the U.S. they usually think of Native american Indians. Indigignous Hawai'ian people are often over-looked, and the same thing happened to them, but more recently. The Hawai'ians were very developed -- the queen's palace had electricity before the White House. People need to think about the native Hawai'ian people, too.

(Derwyn enters the room and joins the group.)

Annie: I was just quoting you.

indymedia: About when they give you "half the peace sign".

Derwyn: If they give us half, we'll defnitely give the other half: Peace.

indymedia: That's a really beautiful way to think about it.

Annie: Take the negataive energy of the bomb and turn it around and make it Peace.

Tom: I think places like Japan know what it's like to lose a war. A lot of innocent people suffered because of the leadership of some. The average person I've met there is committed to not having another war. They can't understand why it would need to happen again. I think that's why they support Peace so much. Some philosophers say they had to go through the atomic bomb to purify their karma.

Annie: What will this country have to go through to make up for our karma?

Tom: It's going to be a very hard lesson. i'm not convinced americans will get the lesson until it's too late.

Annie: I'm surprise the countries we're bombing aren't joining together. We're making so many enemies,

indymedia: I was listening to the reactions of other countries after the State of Union address, and they are not happy. One country called Bush "infantile".

Annie: I don't like him, but if I was him I'd focus less on making the American people like him. Since he used other methods to win besides voting. If he's just going to talk -- I think he is just a puppet -- if he is just going to talk, he should talk in a way that won't make him so many enemies.

Tom: Part of the walk is to listen to the youth. I want to listen to people like her [Annie] so I can get an idea of what an old man like me and him [points to Derwyn] should do. I'm here because of people like her, and the little children, who tell me what they feel. I'm so happy when the young people are around because it makes me have to work harder.

Andy: Your words and experience have really helped.

Tom: We can help. We pray. But you guys are going to have to face what we don't get finished with.

indymedia: So Derwyn, apparently you're another old man. (group chuckles.) Why did you join the walk?

Derwyn: When we disrespect our relatives, when there is no honor in our communication, when people begin walking away from natural law -- man pulled away and suffered, and still continues to suffer. an example of walking away from natural law is when we extracted this medicine rock [radioactive ore for bomb-making] without asking permission. We took their internal holy fire and made something of our own. We want to become like a creator. But we only create disrespect and disharmony in the web of life. We are all feeling it to this day because of this disrespect.

My friend Jun-san helped me with a prayer i was doing -- the Wiping of the Tears ceremony at Wounded Knee [in South Dakota, where Native Americans were massacred by the U.S. government]. Halfway thorugh the walk she joined me to support my prayer. In the middle of a huge snowstorm she helped me keep going with her drum and her beat. A couple of times i wanted to quit then. It was that little woman's prayer, honor and respect that helped me to fulfill and continue on honoring my realatives. So when I heard she was on this walk, I wanted to come support that. Not questioning, just wanting to help. Help her in her prayer.

It has touched my heart what Tom is doing: opening the door and bringing in non-indiginous people. I have been able to share my upbringing, my ceremonial beliefs, my knowledge. I have a chance to learn from them, too, because I learn so much about myself from everyone who is walking. Everyone has their own individual prayer, but it is a unit. We are trying to share that with people. We are all different people but we can walk together. We have different upbringings.

I grew up on a reservation, hating white people, until i really started to connect with Spirit. It isn't the white or red or yellow people; it is us doing it to ourselves. From there I started to open up more and learn more. When I opened up I saw we are all children of the Creator. I feel at home when I'm in a group like this. We all feel, we all hurt, yet we can all comfort each other. The shot today really made it clear to a lot of young people.

indymedia: You might encounter more of that, the further South you go.

Derwyn: I grew up in the early 70's fighting for religious rights, and I grew up being shot at. It's not new to a lot of old people but it is new for the young people. There's some things that are happening that are good for the community to know about. The reason i know about the hate is because i had it once in myself.

indymedia: As a group, how did you handle that type of negative energy and how will you evolve in dealing with it?

Derwyn: Pray. Pray and keep walking. (pause.) A little faster sometimes! (everybody laughs.)

Annie: The whole walk is a prayer.

Tom: They answered why I'm here. That's how I see it. I just let it go and let the Creator take it that way.

indymedia: Are you scared?

Annie: No. Well, it's scary but I'm not scared.

Andy: No. Definitely hearing the stories, and what I've read, especially during the civil rights period, I hate to say it's to be expected. I'm not scared. I'm here with all my being.

Tom: When you're on a walk everyone starts to function with one mind, one heart. You get to know everybody as one family. Different races, ages, gender -- it's cross sectional. I think that's really what the world needs to look at. We're here in america, and if this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, then I think as Peace walkers we are exercising our freedom to be who we are and what we are. In a land that's supposed to be free.

I would like to challenge this countrty to really examine their so-called freedom. Because i've been free, living in the bush, no stoplights, no laws. The wind and the snow and the trees and the animals made the law. When I come back here I am not free. I have to obey any law that any politician wants to make without my consent or permission. That is not freedom. That is political, economic, spiritual slavery. I think everyone in this country, whether they know it or not -- are slaves to the system. It's time for people to get off their asses and put into practice what they feel in their heart. Some people say, "I can't go" [on the pilgrimage], "I have commitments". Well, I've got commitments. I've got three grandchildren. Everyone should take one day or even one hour and say, "I'm doing a peace walk." It wouldn't hurt you but it would make a statement to the country.

Annie: People go, "I can't, I have a job", and i don't think people really consider all the possibilities. We consider so many things impossible that really aren't. I would rather have Peace than go to school. I can go to school next year or the year after. I have forever to go to school.

Derwyn: The condition of society says you have to keep supporting the system, brainwashing us into supporting the system. A lot of people grow up hearing that and so they want to continue supporting the system. I spent time in the military defending the Constitution. I believe in freedom. I went and President Clinton signed my paper that said I had the right to carry peyote for religious purposes. So for me I'm an american citizen, a veteran, and I stood up for religious freedom for indiginous people. I want to do the respectful thing with this medicine. To walk and talk openly, is my sacrament. When i put this flame into the ground i will put medicine with it. We use this holy fire at the sundance, to pray, to find our way in the darkness. One earth, one people, one medicine, one way -- the holy way.

Poster on the door of the room at Jefferson middle school where we conversed with the walkers.