To many, the New York City marathon is a test of physical endurance. But for the men of Team One Spirit from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, it was to empower their youth. Coming from one of the most impoverished Native American reservations in the US, their participation was a big stride towards representing indigenous communities on an international platform.
Yesterday’s marathon was their opportunity to fundraise for youth centers to be built on their reservation, a project to give Pine Ridge teens safe places to celebrate their culture, and prevent drug and alcohol abuse, two prevalent issues on the reservation. What’s more, the men wanted use the race to show the world the resiliency of the Lakota Nation.
Runner Nupa White Plume, 30, talked about what the race meant to him. “We’re doing this to get our reservation noticed so everybody can come and help our people.”
But the team did not realize they had garnered support from urban Natives, as they had not met with the Native American communities here in NYC.
Actor John Scott-Richardson was thrilled when he found out there were other Natives running the race.
“Sometimes we’re overlooked in NYC, but these events raise the awareness of the greater public that our indigenous people are here,” Scott-Richardson told ICTMN.
“It’s inspiring to see other Native groups rallying for a common cause for other indigenous communities beyond where we live,” he said. “I hope the youth here will see Team One Spirit as positive role models, and get involved in communities here in the city.”
Scott-Richardson from the Haliwa Saponi tribe said that even if the fundraising produces only one center, it will make the much-needed positive impact of bringing more young Natives together.
As members of the American Indian Community House handed fruit and water to passing runners, onlookers enjoyed music from the Native local band SilverCloud.
Anxiously, they watched out for Team One Spirit to pass. Drummer Steve Peace-Smith, from Eastern Cherokee Nation, said the men of Team One Spirit are 21st Century warriors, serving as positive role models for indigenous youth.
“It’s inspiring for youth to see these guys running this race for our people,” he said.
After the race, runner James Pine, 22, a son of coach Dale Pine, said he struggled after mile 13. Even though he was one of the fastest runners in high school, the NYC marathon pushed his will power to a nearly unbearable level. “It was one of the hardest things in my life,” he said.
But what kept him going was thinking about the Pine Ridge community.
“Remembering all the kids in the youth center and my family back home, and all the practice and hard work to get here, I couldn’t give up. This was it,” Pine said.
With the NYC marathon over, Team One Spirit is one step closer to showing the world who they are, what they want for their community, and what lengths they are willing to go to see it done.
Sharon Dusky, Donor Services Manager for Team One Spirit, choked back tears watching the men run. “I’m just so amazed by One Spirit and all the love and support from the communities here,” she said. “We’ve come so far.”
As the last runners passed by, Peace-Smith drummed the last beat. He took inspiration from the runners, and said, “We are still here, and we are resilient.”