Native runners build community through medicine prayer run

Recently, Native American runners participated in a 360-mile prayer run from San Juan County to Salt Lake City.

The second annual Running as Medicine Indigenous Youth Prayer Run began on Monday, May 18 at the Bears Ears buttes and concluded at Warm Springs in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22.

The run was organized by nonprofit SLC Air Protectors. It was the group’s second annual run from Bears Ears to Warm Springs with the first occurring in August 2020.

SLC Air Protectors Executive Director Jacob Crane shared in an interview with Redrock 92.7 FM that the nonprofit is an environmentally-focused group that supports indigenous stewardship and strengthening relationships with indigenous and non-indigenous people.

The runners ran from Bears Ears to Monticello on day one, Monticello to Moab on day two, Moab to Price on day three, Price to Utah County on day four, and Utah County to Warm Springs in Salt Lake City on day five.

Crane explains how a prayer run differs from a regular jog. “A prayer run is a mini-ceremony,” he said. “You’re going into a state of being where you have to be respectful, but you also want to have fun as well.

“Native people, we always joke around because we believe that laughter is medicine, and we believe that running as medicine is medicine.”

Crane says the Running as Medicine Indigenous Youth Prayer Run creates a safe space for people to come together from different tribal backgrounds. The run included representation from more than a dozen tribes. 

“It creates a space where folks can come together in unity, pray together, eat together, and sacrifice together,” said Crane. “That’s really what I wanted this run to be about, is community building, strengthening relationships with non-indigenous people and just furthering SLC Air Protectors’ message that we are a community-based organization and that’s what we want.

“We want community engagement. We want to do more projects around building community, and this is just one of the ways that we do that.”

Among those on the run was Rhiannon Velazquez, a member of the Lakota tribe who traveled from Rapid City, SD to participate.

Velazquez was part of the inaugural Running as Medicine Indigenous Youth Prayer Run last fall where she saw the Bears Ears for the first time.

“Last year was my first year being there, and it was pretty amazing. I didn’t know it existed because it’s a totally different tribe than me, so it was really cool to see and experience,” said Velazquez.

Velazquez says she runs a lot at home where she’s seen similar devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic that local tribes in San Juan County have experienced.

“It has had a huge impact everywhere,” she said. “Everywhere got hit really hard. A lot of relatives passed away from it and are still suffering from it.”

Crane says one of the main prayers of the runners participating was for healing and unity.

In addition to the runners on-site, Crane said they had virtual runners participating across the globe, even as far away as Afghanistan.

Additional support for the run came in the form of donations on the organization’s website.

As part of efforts to build community, Crane says they envision next year’s run being an even larger event.

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