Saturday, 23 February 2008

Delivering a message from Mother Earth: native Americans' Sacred Runs & Longest Walk 2008

photo: Sacred Run: The Lotus and the Feather, Japan 1995
The first modern run in 1991 crossed the continent from Vancouver BC to the Mohawk community of Kahnawake near Montreal.

As Dennis Banks explained in an interview at the time: Runners follow the ancient Native American tradition of bringing a message of "Land, Life and Peace" from village to village. In relays, they cover about 100 miles a day. Each runner wears a medicine pouch and carries a sacred staff. Every morning at sunrise we gather in a circle to offer prayers of thanksgiving to the Great Spirit. A song is sung to the Four Directions asking for a safe journey, then a message is cited. This message is recited daily, once in the morning and once at the end of the day's run, when all gather in a circle and burn cedar and tobacco in the act of prayer. One by one the runners are "smudged" and fanned by feathers from an eagle. The runners do not compete for medals. They take home only the memories of who they met and why they ran.

Who are these runners? What is the message they carry? In the "Unity Caravans" of the1950s up to 1967, youth and elders visited Indian reservations across North America to revive ancient teachings of the Great Spirit, ceremonies, prophecies and prayers, the sacredness of earth, air and water, the right relation of humans to all life -- Twolegged, Fourlegged, Winged, Finned, or GreenLeaved peoples, our relatives. In 1978, the tradition of running from village to village with a message was reborn, and Spiritual Runs have continued ever since. The 30th anniversary of The Longest Walk of 1978 from Alcatraz in San Francisco, to Washington D.C. will be repeated this year; a website reports on its history, photos and voices of the runners, and their current location. Their motto is All Life is Sacred -- Save Mother Earth.

An extraordinary film (now on DVD) exists of the 4000-km long 1995 Sacred Run: The Lotus and the Feather in Japan. It is edited like a tapestry, interweaving sights, songs, ceremonies and concerns of all the participants. Banks says, For many of the Native runners, this is the first time they have spent so much time with so many non-tribal people. With so many different languages being spoken--Ojibwa, Cree, French, German, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Sami, English [and Japanese] --one might think that communication barriers would materialize. But it is just that condition which draws the runners together. More effort is put forth by each person. In the beginning they are strangers. Then a strong bond develops as they ride together, pray together, eat meals together, and gather in the evening remembering the day's run. In that friendship, the understanding of each other's ways and heritage blossoms. As we exchange songs, dances, poetry, and stories learning from each other... our dreams become clear... distant lands are not that distant... Each one sees the spiritual path he or she must follow. The film reports that process, that awakening of the dreamer in each one. The filmmaker Andrea Sadler has dedicated her life since to widening the circle.

Other films/videos: Rebecca MacNiece video for the 2008 run, Tierra y Vida blog of the 2002 Hopi run to Mexico City and its video on Youtube (tambien en español), , Velcrow Ripper's documentary Fierce Light (90 Min, 2008), which includes a Shoshone sacred run; see also his Scared Sacred (105 min. 2004). See also 2006 concert CD, NFB/ONF collections: Aboriginal Perspectives, Wabenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, Visions autochtones and Wapikoni mobile.

Additional sources: Northern Route 2008, Banks' Nowa Cumig Institute, Virtual on the Wabenaki tradition of the sacred run, an Apache run of 2004, a multitribal run 2004 from the Bighorn to Edmonton, in Navaho territory 2005, multitribal 2008 runs in Los Angeles, Raramuri, Mississippi, and Australia. This list is incomplete. Cherokee Orrin Lewis has a helpful webpage on native spirituality, with a warning about hoaxes and pretenders. Sacred traditions are best learned face-to-face from real elders, not crammed from websites or books. Non-natives may benefit from Pachamama Alliance workshops on Awakening the Dreamer. See also blogs of Roberto Mendoza aguilahombre, Hopi Tierra y Vida

See our previous post about Quaker walks.

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