Walk Across America (interview Tilt! #7)

August 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Tilt! # 7 | 3 Comments
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Interview with Ghilain Vermeersch who did (part of the) Walk Across America (with ‘Mother Earth’) * 1992

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  1. The reason why we left was because an alcoholic Vietnam veteran indian (who was discredited by his own community) on a meeting started to drivel to an old walker because he didn’t agree that this indian had a sticker on his car “all those who want to outlaw guns should be shot”. I said that if everybody was allowed to carry a sticker of their choice, he wouldn’t mind one in the vein of “fuck redskins” then, and the room exploded… So Nathalie and myself deciced we weren’t gonna stay amidst a flock of sheep…

  2. I was on the walk and walked for 8 months – I took a month off to rest and went back. It was not perfect but I learned a lot about getting along with people who are different from myself – not always a perfect walk – but certainly an education and I’m glad I braved it out and finished the journey. It was not a waste and I didn’t feel like a sheep. I’m sorry people didn’t like it but the point of a walk is trying to work out differences to build a community. There aren’t that many communities like the walk and if 150 live together for 9 months there is definitely going to be friction. However, all in all, I learned a lot and have no regrets.

    • I wondered why I had no memory of Ghilain (but I accepted his requests and follows on digital media because of the Walk connection) – now I know why. He was gone by the time I got there. And while I did bond with many wonderful Belgians, I felt that they had an unrealistic and often times offensive view of Native Americans. As one of the few with Native blood, I was supposed to be a sort of go-between for the Natives and the non-Natives. I think a lot of the Belgians thought it was going to be Dances With Wolves and they would be met in NYC by a huge group of grateful and majestic Native people on equally majestic horseback. And while a lot of the European walkers were either on the dole or being paid by the Belgian government (several people told me that their expenses were being covered and they were getting small stipends from their government for doing “positive environmental work”), the Native population of the US lives mostly in poverty with neither the means or the luxury of taking nine months to travel with a bunch of European hippies – no matter how valuable the work. And when we did venture into Native communities, they turned out in full-force to welcome us, feed us, entertain us and give us a safe place to camp. Many of the European walkers took time off to buy offensive “Native artifacts” to ship back home to Europe. Some of the non-Native Americans and Europeans on the walk wanted the rules of Native religion changed so that they could take part, not understanding that it was not theirs to change. At one point, after a night spent camping next to a bar in Indian country, a Belgian man looked at me and said: “If I had known I was coming to walk for a bunch of drunks I would have never come.”. I felt like I was never going to be able to make these visitors understand that 500 years had led up to the scene being what it was. That is wasn’t what I wanted for Native America, that it wasn’t really what Native America wanted for Native America. It was a hopeless tangle of too many years of oppression and not having the tools needed to fix what had been done by Europeans for over 500 years since their arrival to the ‘new world’. And for the record – the Vietnam vet you [Filip] spoke of? He was DRAFTED. Men in our country didn’t have a choice as to whether or not they wanted to go to Vietnam. He was forever scarred by that experience. Haunted for the rest of his days by it. (And this is where I find myself once again, after all these years, being frustrated by what seems to be Belgian ignorance of the rest of the world.) Before you make judgments about other people’s lives, perhaps you should do some reading up on the subject. Don’t assume that everyone comes from your privileged background. Most of the world does not! I have been to Belgium several times since then and I know it to be a wonderful place – much nicer than a lot of the world. Please try and keep things in perspective when it comes to other people and the lives that they live in the places that they live. But in the spirit of keeping it in perspective – that Vietnam vet was also a sexual predator who molested several women in our camp – some Americans, some Belgians. The Belgian women were pressured by their compatriots not to complain. WTF!? When I found out, I was on the phone to the people who had sent him and he was escorted to a bus station. End of story.
      And so, I left the Walk after four months of tearing my hair out. I had picked up some Flemish before I left and I still know it to this day. Mostly it’s things to say when you know people are lying about you right in front of you because they don’t think you are capable of absorbing their language. But not all – my favorite expression from that time is “Wir sind heir von elkar te houwde”. (Sorry if 20+ years and several years of living in Germany messed that up too terribly.) We are all here to love each other.


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