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Revival of running with a reason: sovereignty and sacred lands

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GARYOWEN, Mont. ? As relays in the cross-country Sovereignty Run race across central Montana, they focus attention, not only on the issue of protecting tribal sovereignty, but on the Indian tradition of sacred running.

According to the Sovereignty Run web site, sovrun.org, the relay is on schedule, already having reached this eastern Montana town (named for George C. Custer's favorite song) on Sept. 19. The run started from the Quinault Indian Reservation in Washington State on Sept. 11 and is scheduled to end on the U.S. Supreme Court steps on Washington, D.C. on Oct. 7, at the opening of the Court's fall term. The run was organized by the Quinaults with sponsorship by the National Congress of American Indians.

Other tribes, notably the Quechan, are turning to long-distance runs to dramatize concerns such as the protection of sacred land. Planning is underway for the fourth quadrennial "Peace and Dignity Journey," the granddaddy of all long-distance runs in which indigenous teams will start from the northern tip of Alaska and the bottom of South America and meet in Panama. Descriptions of the two runs follow.

Indian Pass Spiritual Run

During the Indian Pass Spiritual Run, 30 Quechan tribal members and others will traverse the 800 miles from Sacramento to Fort Yuma. The event, which took place from Sept. 20 to 25, is in support of the tribe's ongoing effort to protect its sacred sites at Indian Pass from destruction by a Canadian gold-mining company. Participants will include men and women of all ages, as well as children, according to Phil Emerson, one of the coordinators.

"Traditionally, we Quechan people are runners," said Priscilla Pretty Bird, of the tribe's Cultural Committee. "It's what we do." Over the course of the six days, the group will have overnight rest stops at Cable Mountain, Tule River, and Sherman Indian High School, among others.

The run is open to non-Indians as well as tribal members. "We invite all Indian nations and all communities to join us," said Emerson. "We use this as a medicine to heal our bodies and our families. While we run, we carry the colors red, yellow, black, and white, which represent all the peoples of the world." The Quechan group will also participate in the Sovereignty Run and in the 2004 Peace and Dignity Journey.

For more information, call the Quechan Tribal Hall at (760) 572-0213.

Peace and Dignity Journeys

This run, which takes place every four years, grew out of a 1990 intercontinental indigenous conference in Quito, Ecuador. The first one was in 1992.

"We wanted to respond to the so-called discovery of America," said Gustavo Gutierrez, who was one of the original organizers, along with Alfonso Perez and Gary Harrison. "Nobody discovered us, and we wanted to send out the truth. There was amazing damage done to our cultures and languages. As the run passed through the various nations, people thanked us for reminding them of their responsibilities to the sacred staff."

As the runners travel from nation to nation, they carry one feather-decorated staff south from Alaska; another group will bring another staff north from Tierra del Fuego. In 2004, the two groups will meet at the Kuna Nation in Panama, according to Gutierrez, who is a former United Farm Workers labor organizer. Since the events happen over such large distances and encompass so many nations, it is difficult to estimate the number of participants ? who generally run only within their own community ? but Gutierrez guesses that it will be in the thousands.

For more information, contact Gustavo Gutierrez at (480) 966-8714.