Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 26, 2004
Young natives run for healing
Group bound for Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Sandra Eagle Child was walking by the grotto at Lac Ste. Anne last year when she noticed something interesting. She saw several placards depicting groups of native people who ran from their reserves to the pilgrimage for a spiritual cause.
That set her mind to work.
Eagle Child, an interpretive guide at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, thought that no one from the Blood Reserve southwest of Lethbridge, had ever done such a run.
And she knew of a reason to do it.
"The relay run was started because of what was happening with our youth on the reserve in the past year," Eagle Child said. "There were three or four murders. There were suicides. We looked at everything that was affecting youth, like drugs and alcohol. We looked at peer pressure."
The run would be a time of prayer and sacrifice, calling on the Lord to heal the youth of her reserve.
A year ago, she made the decision to get her friends and family involved. Since she conceived the idea, however, dozens of aboriginal people from Standoff to Alberta Beach, have become involved.
She wanted to combine native culture with Catholic tradition, so she wove a rosary within a braided hoop of sweetgrass. Along with an eagle feather, these items were blessed by Father Les Kwiatkowski at Immaculate Conception Church in Standoff. They are handed to each person as he runs, like a torch in a relay.
"It was a way for our youth to look at their lives and begin to pray," Eagle Child said. "We smudge with sweetgrass every day and we say the rosary when we are at Church. The eagle feather represents spirituality. It was a way of bringing in nature, which is very important to our culture."
The group has received donations of food and lunch packs, as well as about $600 for juice and fuel for the vehicles that travel with the runners.
Ken Williams, a teacher in Pincher Creek, became involved after he was approached because of his experience organizing relays.
The group started in Standoff on June 19 with Sandra walking the first two kilometres. A group of about nine ran to Buffalo Plains near Head Smashed In. On the 22nd, the hoop and feather were run from Buffalo Plains to Gleichen where the group stayed for a few days before running to the Red Deer area.
Williams, a non-native, said fewer runners are taking part than the organizers had hoped. That places a lot of work on a few shoulders.
"I think that adds to the incredible nature of the group that was there, what they did," he said. "They really rose to the occasion and nobody flinched. Everybody was willing to go, sacrificing themselves."
Williams assesses each person's fitness level and capability and discusses what he is interested in them doing. He might suggest a leg in the relay be a one to five kilometre run, or a one kilometre walk while others are resting and feeding. Vans follow the group. The group has run from five to 12 hours in a day, covering at least 100 km.
Williams said running great lengths is natural for the Blackfoot of southern Alberta. Known as the Buffalo Runners about 200 years ago, the Blackfoot ran from their settlements for days to find buffalo herds. They returned with the information, meeting with other settlements at the buffalo jump.
Brian Cryinghead, 19, said it is an honour to participate. He is running for his young bride and newborn baby.
"It is an honour to do this run to heal people who are sick. I am running for my wife, Leah Youngpine, and our new daughter Jaimee," he said while resting near the Joffre Bridge. "My wife is ill after Jaimee was born about 10 days ago. We are very hot, but running like this is in our blood."
Adrian Calling Last, 23, made a bold prediction, saying he expects to run the entire distance, rather than turning back to Standoff once they reach Joffre.
"I am doing this run for my cross-country coach who passed away about two months ago. She was like my grandma to me. This is for prayers for her and her family and for others who have lost loved ones," he said.
Jennifer No Runner, 47, has not been to Lac Ste. Anne since the death of her mother several years ago. She is eagerly anticipating attending this year.
"Spiritually, I am running with Christ. I believe when you are spiritually involved, it's the source of power on earth," she said. "It's what I need to help me run. Physically and spiritually, this balances the wheel for me.
"My mother was a very spiritual woman. She was one of the Catholic women on the Blood Reserve and she led a group from the reserve to the pilgrimage. These rolling hills remind me of life's journey. When you encounter obstacles, you are going uphill. It gives you more determination to keep going."
The group, with others from Hobbema, Enoch, Edmonton and Alberta Beach, is scheduled to arrive at Lac Ste. Anne July 26.
The pilgrimage runs July 24 to 29.