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Native Presence at L.A. Marathon Provides Hydration and Spiritual Uplift

Native Americans gave runners in the LA Marathon a boost with music, dancing, and lots of good old water.

At Mile 17 of this year’s Los Angeles Marathon, held March 15, runners saw and heard something a little different: a powwow dancer and a drum group. It was a subtle reminder that they were on Gabrielino Tongva land—and that the land’s first inhabitants are still here.

For the second year in a row, the American Indian Community Council (AICC) was an official race sponsor. AICC is a central hub and resource for LA’s American Indian/Alaska Native community. It operates groups for women, elders, and the Indian Child Welfare Act, among other things.

Cheyenne Phoenix dances on a street in Beverly Hills as runners in the L.A. Marathon pass behind her. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.

AICC’s 2015 goal was to raise funds for United Native Youth of LA (UNYLA), which represents LA’s Native youth councils. Specifically, AICC plans to send Native youngsters on a Youth Leadership Journey to nearby reservations to learn about their roots. Some urban Indians have never visited a reservation.

The LA Marathon encourages participants to raise funds for causes. This spurred 27 Indians to run this year—up from only three a few years ago. They included long-time marathoners Shawn Imitates-Dog and Willie Sandoval as well as some first-timers. Nineteen completed the whole 26.2 miles while the others ran half-marathons in relays.

Early-morning group shot of Native runners outside Dodger Stadium, prior to the 2015 L.A. Marathon. From left: Angelia Blas, Andrea Ermert-Espinosa, Kenneth Ramos, Fairuz Gladys Dakam, Clementine Minnie, Arv Tso, Shawn Imitates-Dog, David Streamer, Willie Sandoval, Kendra Marie Buck and Juan Diaz. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.

Last year, AICC runners raised $2,500 through the Crowdrise fundraising site. This year, their efforts with the page at crowdrise.com/aiccla/fundraiser/shawnimitatesdog have attracted over $9,000—nearly double their goal of $5,000.

With winter temperatures soaring to 90 degrees, runners were grateful for AICC’s water station at the two-thirds mark in Beverly Hills. They also appreciated the cultural uplift and took lots of photos. One runner said the drumbeat revitalized her.

The AICC water station in Beverly Hills awaits the arrival of thirsty L.A. Marathoners. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.

The Native runners also were thinking about their cultures. About the people they were running for who couldn’t be there. About the tough issues facing Indian country and the need for more wellness and healing.

They were running in the footsteps of their ancestors—some of whom ran long distances as a way of life. Some runners even said a prayer each mile for those who requested one. It confirmed the old adage about Indians: that everything they do is spiritual.

Monique Castro hands a cup of water to a runner. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.

Avril Cordova and Cheyenne Phoenix help runners stay hydrated. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.

Daniel Jesus French working the NACC water station. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.

Juan Diaz, Kenneth Streamer, and David Ramos. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.

Mikaela Saelua and Kendra Marie Buck. Photo by Pamela J. Peters/Tachiinii Photography.