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Running down through the centuries: The Hopi way

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Hopi men and boys have been running back and forth from
their mesa-top pueblos to their cornfields 500 feet below for centuries.
Prior to the acquisition of horses and, later, motor-powered vehicles, Hopi
hunters also ran, not only considerable distances but also at great speeds
to capture game. Running also has also been a traditional part of various
Hopi ceremonies and is connected with bringing life-giving rain to the land
and prosperity to the people of this Southwest tribe who have never backed
away from the harder, but more enduring, route.

Running was also a way to carry messages long distances. Hopi figured
prominently in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, an attack on Spanish
missionaries, in which Hopi runners ran to nearby pueblos to alert their
allies of impending battles. And it didn't stop in the 17th century. Two
hundred and twenty-three years later, the Hopi were still running. In 1903,
Charlie Talawepi of Oraibi carried a message and reply the round-trip
distance of 72 miles to Keams Canyon and back in 36 hours.

Today's runners concentrate on physical fitness and sport. In 1912, Louis
Tewanima stepped up onto the Olympic platform in Sweden to accept his
silver medal for distance running. And in 1927, Hopi runner Nicholas
Quamawahu, 27, won the Long Beach -- New York marathon, bandana in place
over his Hopi-style bob.

Watson Namoki, who carves katsina dolls, has even fashioned a Hopi Runner
doll, also called "Ai," the Rattle Katsina. Today, women join the men in
running races.

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"Oh yes, she runs a lot," said Alfreda Secakuku of her daughter, Tara.
"We're always going to one race or another to watch her. And in 2002 she
went to Australia for a race."

Indeed, instead of staging challenge races between neighboring villages the
way they traditionally did, modern-day Hopi get into 5K and 10K runs and
beyond. They run for various occasions, to commemorate an individual and
for the sheer thrill of it.

The Louis Tewanima Memorial Footrace is an annual run that takes place in
September after the harvest is gathered and the intense dog-day
temperatures of late August have cooled down some. Runners and walkers meet
at Shungopavi, the largest of the villages on Second Mesa, where they sign
up for the 10K, 5K, 2M and 1M events. These modern-day runners understand
that even as they strengthen their own health by running, they contribute
to the well-being of all the Hopi people and the world.

Contributing to the world's well-being is precisely what's on the minds of
runners from the Hopi villages who are preparing to cover a distance of
2,000 miles to the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico City in March 2006.
Joining a group of 26 indigenous long-distance runners, the Hopi will carry
jubilant messages about how the Black Mesa Trust successfully got the
world's largest coal company to stop pumping water from their arid mesa
homeland at the end of 2005. The run will also honor 19 Hopi leaders
imprisoned at Alcatraz in 1895 for refusing to let their children be taken
away to government schools for the so-called civilizing process. En route,
runners will be able to meet and make connections with other indigenous
peoples, thus strengthening their commitment to nurturing the earth instead
of stripping it of its bounty.

Runners in Indian country and outside it talk about how getting out and
going through the paces gets into their blood. Clearly that's the case with
the Hopi runners: several hundred years and still going, one fleet step at
a time.