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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Peace and Dignity Journey Runners Unite


by Brenda Norrell / Southwest Staff Reporter / Indian Country Today


credits: Tohono O’odham join the Peace and Dignity Run between Baboquivari Peak and the Tohono O’odham capitol of Sells, Ariz. (Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today)


BABOQUIVARI PEAK, Ariz. - Tohono O’odham elders on horseback and young runners packed in vans, joined the Fourth Annual Peace and Dignity Journey, as runners arrived after crossing 5,000 miles from Chickaloon Village, Alaska on their way to Panama.

Near the international border, William Antone of GuAchi District was among Tohono O’odham elders traveling with runners from the sacred mountain of Baboquivari Peak, home of I’itoi the Creator, to tribal headquarters in Sells, Ariz.

"There are a lot of prayers and offerings on this whole journey. The main thought of this run is strengthening our spirituality. There are a lot of young people taking part and they will be the ones to carry on. They are our future leaders," Antone said.

Pamela Anghill of GuVo District, mother and college student, was waiting for runners at the Tohono O’odham capitol in Sells when she learned that women are being honored by the run.

"What a blessing for the women to be honored. I am honored that this is for me," Anghill said.

Arnold Smith Sr., 70-year-old O’odham who lives a quarter-mile north of the international border in ChuKut Kuk District, was among the elders who escorted runners into O’odham land on horseback. Smith said this was the hottest horseback ride of his life.

Near Gila Bend, often the hottest place in the nation, temperatures climbed to 120 degrees. "That is the worst place we’ve ever been to ride in hot weather. It was really an experience." But Smith had no regrets.

"I told my wife two weeks ago I am going to ride in that Dignity Run. I said, ‘This might be my last ride.’"

When the time came, Smith, Sy Johnson, president of the O’odham Boys and Girls Club, and Johnson’s father, 73-year-old Larry Johnson, saddled up and rode. The journey took runners across O’odham ancestral lands. Smith said, "We followed them into the old O’odham village. That village went underwater some years ago and has never been the same since."

Peace and Dignity runners from the north began in the Chickaloon Village, Alaska, and another group of runners departed from the south at Tierra del Fuego in South America on May 1. Both groups will meet in Panama City in October.

Participants said the run, held every four years, honors women this year because women are the embodiment of Mother Earth and keepers of wisdom by virtue of woman’s capacity to bring forth and sustain life. Prayers are being offered for the healing of Mother Earth.

On the Tohono O’odham Nation, runners from Hickiwam District, ages 7 to 17, found their struggles were the same as those faced by indigenous people everywhere. O’odham elder David Ortega of GuVo District said the run is a way of holding fast to the culture and encouraging young people to learn the traditional ways. "We forget that we have elders that do the teaching," Ortega said as he held a sacred staff and prepared to greet runners in front of the council chambers.

"Everything is out in the open and we get sidetracked," Ortega said of people’s busy lives. "We are not just doing this for ourselves, but for all indigenous peoples."

Verland Frank, youth from Gu Achi District, had just enlisted in the U.S. Marines. "I am running for the servicemen."

GuVo Councilman Mike Flores said he hopes the young runners will run into the future with the memory of the beauty of this land and work hard to preserve it. "They should look out at the richness of this land and remember this is our ancestral land."

When the run began in Alaska, Athabascan Chief Gary Harrison spoke of the vision of the run for the future. "What the run means to me is a prayer that all of the people in the world can get along in peace and dignity. It’s not only for the people on this continent but for all the people in wars on other continents as well. Even though it may not end all strife, it may be a step in the right direction for all people of the world to try and come to an understanding of one another, so they can try and live in peace and dignity. Every step is a prayer and I hope to see you there."

In Alaska, Richard Martin said, "The Family Staff is carried the entire trip and has always been a main component of the run. It represents not only the family of man but also the nuclear family - mother, father and children. It starts with three feathers - eagle, condor and macaw representing North, South and Central America. When it reaches ceremonies in Panama, it will have accumulated 300 feathers."

Quechan Phil Emerson, an elder, said the journey started in 1992, first honoring children, then elders, the family, and now women. "This year we honor women. We pray to fight drug and alcohol abuse, and take better care of our women.

"Remember, they give us life. Prayers are for our nation, ourselves, the little ones and those yet to be born."

Following prayers and ceremonies on the Tohono O’odham Nation, runners departed for Pascua Yaqui in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. The entire trip will cover more than 15,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina.

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