Reunion prophecy drives Peace and Dignity Journey runners


WOUNDED KNEE, S.D. - They started in May, running along the highways of western Canada, each of them a messenger with a sacred staff held high.

They have been moving south ever since, driven by a prophecy about reuniting the Native peoples of Turtle Island.

Through sun, wind and rain, they follow the plains and valleys of America - all of America: once an indigenous whole, now divided into nations with passports, armies, borders and walls.

In early May, the runners passed through Wounded Knee. Richard Iron Cloud, Oglala Lakota and a representative of the American Friends Service Committee, welcomed them by singing an Honor Song before leading the runners up the hill to the mass grave where the victims of the notorious 1890 massacre are interred.

For these runners, Wounded Knee was a fitting stop. Every four years, Peace and Dignity Journeys, a volunteer Native organization sponsored by the Phoenix-based nonprofit Tonatierra Community Development Institute, organizes a run for Native solidarity in fulfillment of indigenous prophecies. The theme of this year's run is ''Honoring our Sacred Sites.''

The runners for the 2008 event come from all over the continent.

Sean, a young Cree man, learned about the group when they passed through his home in the Onion Lake First Nation Reserve in Saskatchewan.

''I had one day to make up my mind what I would do with the next seven months of my life,'' he said. And he wasn't shy about what being a runner on this trip meant to him. ''It's going to change my life.''

Ymoat, a young Native woman from Zacatecas, Mexico, was resting by the side of the road after running a stage on a hot July afternoon. She smiled broadly when asked who could join in the journey.

''Peace is about everyone,'' she said. Both Natives and non-Natives are participating, ranging in age from young children to elders.

The original group of runners started in Arctic Village, Alaska, but others have taken up the cause along the way and are running parallel routes, stretching southward. In November, they will end their trek in Panama, where North and South America meet.

Those who run carry sacred staffs with eagle feathers, the gift of Native communities from across the continent.

Jose Malvido, Yaqui/Tohono O'odham from Arizona, said the runners as a group do 70 to 100 miles a day. They take turns running relays of a few miles, followed by vehicles that pick them up and ferry them to the next stage. They're fed and boarded in Native communities overnight and are happy to accept donations along the way.

''It's not political,'' Malvido said of their ultimate purpose. ''It's a ceremonial run.''

As the eagle flies, it's a trip of several thousand miles, a community trek long enough to make a marathon seem like a short sprint.

In Panama, the group will meet up with runners who began in Tierra del Fuego, at Argentina's southern edge - a mirror-image journey that will cross all of South America. The two teams will symbolically draw together a hemisphere that has been split by geography, culture, language and politics - but united by the bedrock of indigenous peoples.

When, on July 7, the runners finally descended the hill from the Wounded Knee memorial, they still had work to do. Their next destination was Oglala, 30 miles to the west. It was already late afternoon.

They geared up for the next stage, piling into their vans - all of them except one.

A lone runner took up a sacred staff while starting down a stretch of highway toward Pine Ridge, passed by a rushing car or two whose journey, no doubt, would be much shorter than their own.