Indigenous people from all over the Americas who are participating in a run across two continents stopped in the Santa Clarita Valley to be greeted by local tribal members before continuing on to Los Angeles and points south.
Elders and other members of the Fernandeño-Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, along with members of other tribes, met at a private home in San Francisquito Canyon Thursday evening to welcome Peace and Dignity Journeys runners with food, a ceremony and a place to rest.
“The most valuable part of it is the communities that are connecting with one another,” said Rudy Ortega Jr., president of the Fernandeño-Tataviam Band. “Regardless of technology and everything else, we’re still keeping traditions. … It brings unification among all of the tribes.”
Kim Marcus, an elder from the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians, participated in the quadrennial run in 1992 and joined in this year’s ceremony in the SCV. Marcus, along with Ortega and other Fernandeno-Tataviam members, performed traditional songs and prayer.
“The run is for the people, for the healing of the people and of the earth,” Marcus said. “It was to restore dignity for our people, self-respect.
“In a sense, the running was more a of prayer,” he said. “For blessings every time we took a step across the earth, then renew the earth again.
“The period of time since the arrival of the Europeans, the Spaniards – when they inhabited the earth in 1492, that was a great hardship for our people. So to be able to run is an ability to renew our self-respect and self-dignity, to have a purpose and prayer for the healing of our communities for the generations to come.”
Every four years, the transcontinental run is held to unify tribes, preserve culture and honor local communities. A theme is chosen each year, this year’s being for natural seeds.
Participants run southward from Alaska and northward from Argentina and meet in Panama. The journey takes several months.
Peace and Dignity Journeys began in 1992, five hundred years after the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus. The elders of the Tarahumara tribe in Chihuahua met with other tribal leaders in 1990 to begin planning the journey to “attain the following goals amongst first nations of the North and South American continents, that which is known to be the unification of the eagle and the condor,” according to the organization’s website.
Goals include holding the spiritual run as a prayer, honoring the community, reinforcing unity among all first indigenous nations, recognizing more than 500 years of strength and preservation of culture, and bringing awareness about Native American communities.
Ceremonial staffs and feathers are given to the runners by tribes to be carried on the journey. A ceremony is held each morning and evening before picking up or laying down each staff.
The runners average about 70 miles per day, but on Thursday, the runners trekked 102 miles from Bakersfield – where they were joined by some members of the Tejon Indian tribe – to Santa Clarita, said Daniel Mejia of Patterson, Calif. Mejia began the journey in Sutton, Alaska.
“Nowhere during the run are people able to get in cars and take off. Someone literally has to be on foot the entire way,” said Porter Ranch resident Javier Lujan (Tarahumara, Navajo), an organizer of the journey.
“(Another organizer) equated it to someone sewing and stitching,” Lujan said, “and the needle is stitching and piecing. He said that continent has been torn to pieces from colonialism and has been ripped apart. When the runners and their feet are going through the earth, it’s kind of like the weaving of a sewing machine, weaving that broken body back together again.”
“We’re awakening, uniting and connecting and bringing this message of peace and dignity,” said Yaotl Mazahua (Tarahumara, Mazahua).
Last year, Tataviam tribal members Kagen Holland and his mother, Caroline Ward-Holland, walked from mission to mission throughout California, a 780-mile journey. Both are direct descendants of people who lived in the Santa Clarita Valley prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in 1769. This year, Kagen Holland helped plan the runners’ route through the Santa Clarita Valley, and he said he hopes to participate in the next journey in 2020.
“I really respect what they’re doing, trying to unify tribal peoples from all over the world,” he said, “especially in this hemisphere where things have been so hard for them and with everything going on in the political scene right now with this anti-Latin sentiment.”
Mejia (Caxcan, Chichimeca) said the community is looking for support, be it financial or hospitality. More information can be found [here].
“More than anything, it’s a calling to help carry this prayer, to keep this tradition going. It’s very important to spread a message of hope, unity and solidarity,” Mejia said.