The White House gave last-minute approval yesterday for the government to provide tents, field kitchens and other major hardware for an eight-day political-religious encampment by up to 3,000 Indians who are bringing their cross-country Longest Walk here today.
Delay on the logistical request, entangled in White House red tape since at least last Tuesday, had caused concern among both Indian organizers and lower-level government planners as the deadline for the Indians' arrival approached.
Some 1,000 Indians are scheduled to leave Patapaco State Park just west of Baltimore this morning and move into Greenbelt (National) Park near Washington tonight. Longest Walk leaders say they expect their numbers to swell to 3,000 during the eight-day encampment in Greenbelt.
Some 200 to 300 tribal elders and religious leaders are also expected to maintain a four-day vigil in an enclosed "spiritual camp" in West Potomac Park near the Lincoln Memorial.
Indian participants at Greenbelt will march into the city tomorrow for rallies in Meridian Hill Park, (also known as Malcolm X Park), and on the Washington Monument grounds. Next week, they will stage marches and demonstrations at the Capitol, White House, Supreme Court and the FBI to protest alleged discrimination and what they say is anti-Indian legislation currently before Congress.
At the same time, according to organizers, the spiritual camp in West Potomac Park and outdoor workshops on the monument grounds will educate non-Indian America about Indian culture and religious life.
The Indians, many of whom come from western and midwestern reservations and say they have little money, have been asking the federal government for several weeks to provide camping space and major logistical support here.
Large-scale sanitation and medical facilities have already been arranged with National Park Service and local and federal health authorities. About $15,000 has been donated by the United Methodist Church for food purchases.
But the government balked at Indian requests for field kitchens, supply tents, refrigeration units, water tanks and buses for a daily shuttle service between the Greenbelt encampment and downtown Washington.
Indian Organizers led by leaders of the militant American Indian Movement, one of the principal elements of the Longest Walk coalition, met with White House officials Tuesday to try to break the impasse. After of-and-on talks, the White House gave a go-ahead sign yesterday to the Interior Department which, through its National Park Service, has jurisdiction over Greenbelt Park.
Interior, which has no field kitchens or other large scale equipment, must now ask the Defense Department or other federal agencies for the equipment under complex federal regulatory procedures.
"We're working swiftly," park service spokesman George Berklacy said last night.
He said Interior was preparing last night to make a request to the Defense Department for the needed equipment, "and we hope to get most of it in Friday night and the bus shuttle service operating by Saturday evening."