American Indian Spiritual Marathon Marks 40th Annivesary

Published May 25, 2018

 Part I

Illustrations by Walt Copenhaver

SAN JOSE, Calif. – June 16th will mark the 40th annual California 500 Mile American Indian Spiritual Marathon. This year the run will honor Ojibwa warrior and founder Dennis J. Banks.

The  running teams are a multicultural group of individuals dedicated to preserving the tradition of spiritual running. Their message is “All Life is Sacred.” Teams run and train together at different locations in the San Francisco bay area about once a month, and in June, they run across California in the annual 500 Mile Spiritual Marathon.

“It’s a non-competitive relay where teams of runners participate in a running prayer by carrying a sacred staff. Runners will often pray for those who are sick or in prison, “ Director John Malloy explains, “ We also pray for the preservation of sacred Native American sites and Mother Earth. At the end of each day, the teams gather in a circle to drum, sing songs, and share stories. The emphasis in our events is spirit, not only running ability. “ There are men and women runners from many cultures and of different ages with non-running team members who support the runners by driving vehicles, preparing meals, setting up camp etc.

During the year the team also participates in service projects for those in need. Projects have included visiting prisons to share hope, cutting firewood for elders, setting up teepees for ceremony, building arbors, walking for peace and the preservation of sacred sites, working with wildlife proponents, bringing pow-wows to prisons, visiting hospitals and more. All of the events are alcohol and drug-free.

The first Native American Spiritual Marathon was started in June, 1978 by Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement. The run was held to commemorate the Longest Walk, in which over 500 North American tribes agreed to walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C.  to show the dismal plight of native people and lobby for the Native American Freedom of Religious Act. The U.S. Congress ratified the act that year and the Sundance Ceremony was brought to D.Q. University in California. In 1980 Dennis Banks had  to leave the state of California, and he entrusted responsibility of the runs to Bill “Mosco” Ramos.

The runs have been held annually ever since, following the tradition of early Native American runners who ran between villages and distant tribes.  The main purpose is to carry the message of the sacredness of all life, our relationship to all living species, and of the need to maintain the delicate balance that exists between humankind and our Mother Earth.

Without the friends and honor spots along the way they could not accomplish their mission. These sites and community treasures include:

United Farm Workers,  Keene, CA

Bishop Reservation, CA

Bridgeport Reservation, CA

Tuolumne Rancheria,  CA

Mosquito Club, Ripon, CA

Three Rivers Lodge, Manteca, CA

Elam Reservation, Clearlake, CA

Pit River Reservation, CA

Colusa Rancheria, CA

Rumsey Rancheria, CA

Coyote Valley Rancheria, CA

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