Intercontinental Prayer Run Journeys into Southern Humboldt

native runners gather in a redwood groveThe Peace and Dignity Journeys arrived last Friday in Williams Grove, near Myers Flat, and left Saturday the 27th. This year’s journey began May 2nd and is the first to happen since the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two different runs that will meet in the middle at El Cuaca, Colombia: one starting in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the other from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.  

In 1990, Indigenous representatives met in Ecuador, at which time they discussed a prophecy involving an eagle and a condor. With the eagle symbolizing the Indigenous people of the North, and the condor symbolizing the Indigenous people of the South, the Journeys are meant to make them meet again by fostering intertribal relationships.

The core runners hail from Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Canada, Hawaii, and California. Sophia Lucas, who started in Alaska, is a local Cahto tribal member from Laytonville. 

Local Wailaki nonprofit Native Health in Native Hands (NHINH) gathered with community members at Williams Grove Friday afternoon to feed the runners, sing them songs of peace, and send them off the next morning with prayers of protection. “Yeh ingnaash. We don’t have a ‘welcome,’ we have ‘come in’– ‘yeh ingnaash,’” said NHINH founding director Perry Lincoln as he greeted the runners in the state park redwood grove.

Perry Lincoln’s daughter Tisanche Lincoln remarked later that evening, “I made a lot of food for a lot of people…my niece, she helped prepare half the food…I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the anticipation, when [the runners] came in, was just, not overwhelming but fulfilling. A really good feeling in my heart. I felt like crying when everyone went past me…I feel really honored to be a part of this.”

a young child holding an octagon sign for the peace runnersBefore sitting down at sunset to Tisanche Lincoln’s lovingly-prepared feast, the runners set up an altar with colorful bundles containing sacred prayer staffs.  Argelio Girón, from the Mixtec people of Oaxaca, explained that “As we run, we’re carrying these staffs blessed by nations all along the way. Our commitment is to take those staffs, keep them among the bundles.”

Girón continued, “There are some staffs that we keep tied together in what we call bundles that have been with us for a long time. We run with them. It’s all about the staffs… We centralize our whole movement around them.”

Perry Lincoln brought eagle feathers beaded by his daughter to add to the runners’ prayer staffs. He stated, “I knew that they ran with the staffs that have eagle feathers from each nation…so I said, ‘I have some feathers’.  I met them yesterday [when they were passing through Hoopa], and got to hold the staff, and it was so powerful that I had to pass it to somebody from Hoopa. I told them, ‘this is too strong for me, to hold it right now, because I’m not from Hoopa.’ Then today, when I held it again, it was the same way. It was so powerful. And I walked with it… But I’m from here, so I had to do that for the people, to step in for the people [who] are not here.”

Another runner explained, “We run with these sacred staffs because they help us unite and heal our Indigenous nations… these are instruments to heal the world. They’ve been prayed on by these communities. So when we carry those prayers, we’re also carrying those stories. We’re bringing those stories that have been given to us with permission, and so we are like vessels, or conduits.  When we are carrying them, we’re connecting these sacred staffs to Mother Earth, and to the cosmos, the universe. Because running is prayer.”

Dr. Amoneeta, from the Aniyunwiya Long Hair Clan, has been involved in the Journeys five times. “This is the first time I’ve committed to do the whole thing,” he smiled.  “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid, to start in Alaska.” As one of the core runners, he observed “amazing support all the way through. It’s a big privilege…We get to stay with a different nation almost every night. They invite us in…and we get the chance to sit down with the gatekeepers of the communities, the medicine people. They take us for ceremony and tell us their stories. It’s such an honor to be able to do this…We make new friends in the 24 hours that we are in a spot. Some of them we stay in touch with over the years.”

“It’s multigenerational,” Dr. Amoneeta went on to add. “We love when the kids are involved. I was ten when I started in 1992… and I want to tell you about Sarah James, who I met in Alaska. She comes from Arctic Village. In 2004, she was 60 years old. She committed, and she ran from Alaska to Panama—the entire distance, where we ended in Panama that year, at 60 years old. Now she’s 80, and she joined us from Fairbanks to the Canadian border…she walked in with us that last half-mile. For the ten days or so that we were in Alaska, she did that every day. And she’d be in circle, and give her wisdom. So it’s absolutely multigenerational. That’s one of the greatest visions.”

Dr. Amoneeta is a psychology professor at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. His research focuses on “Native American strengths, and positive psychology. The way that psychology has harmed native people is that it has focused on deficits, on ‘what’s wrong with us.’ [But] the symptoms they are experiencing, are symptoms of colonization. And the way to cure those symptoms is through culture. Connecting to our roots can reverse those symptoms. That’s part of what Peace and Dignity is about. The strengths of our people. Returning to that. Getting back to our actual culture.”

Dr. Amoneeta went on, “What I always say is, culture is treatment. So if we can get children involved, it can save people. I think I’m an example of that. I grew up around these ways and ceremonies. It makes a big difference in my life in terms of mental health, and addictions—I never got into those.” He continued, “Peace and Dignity, the idea is that it isn’t [merely] every four years; it becomes a lifestyle.”

Another person helping Indigenous and youth-centered events take place in SoHum is Victor M. Bjelajac (pronounced Pol-eye-its), District Superintendent of California North Coast Redwoods State Parks. Bjelajac played a pivotal role in opening Williams Grove up to Native Health in Native Hands so they could host the runners there on June 26th. When asked what his role was in supporting the Peace and Dignity runners, Bjelajac stated, “Working closely with Native Health in Native Hands, a local indigenous group supporting their brethren, they enlisted me. And I’m trying to welcome and honor people who are doing something that’s terrific—show them some hospitality, and show them some love.”

In 2022, Bjelajac was instrumental in getting a redwood log donated from Richardson Grove to the Wailaki, which Perry Lincoln and his nonprofit then transformed into a traditional canoe. In May of this year, Bjelajac also carved a space for Native Health in Native Hands to host an Acorn Camp at Richardson Grove, which provided a wealth of traditional skill-building opportunities for the native community, especially youth. 

Victor Bjelajac has been with California State Parks since 2007, and throughout his collaborative resource work, he has placed emphasis on working with local tribes. As one of the keynote speakers at Native Health in Native Hands’ December 17th 2023 “Na-Nu-La (Thank You in Wailaki)” celebration at the Mateel Community Center, Bjelajac acknowledged that “For a long time, State Parks was seen as a barrier separating people from the land.” 

On Friday the 26th, multiple runners thanked Bjelajac for his hospitality. One reminded him, “Not all superintendents of lands are on board [with providing land access for native people]. It is a good thing you are doing.” Bjelajac responded humbly, “Thank you for letting me be here. Nothing but good thoughts on the rest of your journey.” 

native runners gather in a redwood groveIriany Lopez, runner and coordinator with Ñhañu/Otomi heritage, answered reporter questions Saturday morning before departing for Laytonville. “The prayer run, it is led by Native Indigenous folks, it is open to everyone, and it is led…by the eagle, the condor. I believe that they’re the ones who are guiding this. They’re out along with our ancestors guiding this prayer, reminding us of the power in peace, the power of dignity… the love that is there for us, for the land; the healing that it can bring for the land that we’re running through, the communities that we’re running through…I think it’s a beautiful offering, an offering for all life.”

Lopez continued, “We are able to connect the top and the bottom, the North and the South, just by people. Through communities. Because as we’re running down to Colombia from Alaska, there’s a group that’s running from Argentina up to Colombia.” She added, voice tinged with emotion, “And you also get to hear, what are some of their struggles? There’s a lot of similarities. Missing and murdered Indigenous women–that is something that is happening, unfortunately, across the continent. So continuing to lift up those prayers, bringing awareness to those things. And, taking time to celebrate that we’re still very much here. That in itself, bearing witness to that, is powerful.”

Lopez went on with a smile, “This run is for everyone, and for me it’s extra special when the younger generations are around. As it is an offering for the earth, it is also an offering for the next generation, making space for the possibilities to be bigger, to be available.” 

Antonio Arenas acknowledged the crucial role of women in the Peace and Dignity Journeys, which are co-coordinated by Iriany Lopez and led by elders like Sarah James and core runners like Sophia Lucas. “I got to give it up to a lot of the women. Most of the runners are women. The drivers, the coordinators. I have to really hand it to them.”

 Arenas, raised on Ohlone land but originally from Atlixco, Mexico, participated in the run in 2004, when he was 24.  “I ran because I was very involved…in student organizing around native issues, and linking native issues, sometimes, to immigrant issues,” explained. “Sometimes immigrants are deemed as foreign or ‘aliens’ when in reality a lot of them are native to the continent. My family’s from Atlixco. My dad migrated to work here as an obrero [blue collar worker]. So, migration has been happening on this continent for thousands of years. I think participating in the peace and dignity run was similar. It kind of encourages and establishes migration patterns, you know, the connection between the different communities throughout the continent,” he said. 

“The message has been changing every four years, a different theme,” Arenas explained. This year it’s ‘the word.’ A few years ago it was ‘the seed,’ and ‘the fire’. It’s involved a lot more native people, it’s created a platform for them to speak, to share their message. Our culture, our message. Bringing people together, the unity between native peoples across the continent. Linking together one land, one people. Making it a continental issue, not dividing us by nationalities.”

Learn more at pdjrun.com.

Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled  Argelio Girón’s name. Our apologies for any confusion this caused.

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Thanks for proving our point!D
Member
Thanks for proving our point!
12 days ago

Well done, serenity!👏👏
Also, thanks to the parks for not only getting out of the way of indigenous stewards , but actually supporting the culture. Keep the parks inclusive and welcoming to all, especially those that represent a multigenerational love and respect for the land
✊❤️💙💜💛🖤💚🧡🤎🩶🩵
Respect and healing to all❤️‍🩹

Leanne
Guest
Leanne
11 days ago

❤️

Permanently on Monitoring
Guest
Permanently on Monitoring
11 days ago

I will pray for your safety and the health of the People.

Bill Hogoboom
Guest
Bill Hogoboom
11 days ago

I think I can see the Holy Ghost hovering over the crowd.