Nine runners from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. arrived in Burns Lake recently as part of the 2012 Peace and Dignity Journey.
On route from Chickaloon Village in Alaska to Tikal, Guatemala, Burns Lake was just one of the stops on the seven month long journey that will finish on Nov. 28, 2012.
The Peace and Dignity Journey began in 1992 to continue in the spirit of the traditions of Indigenous ancestors. Every four years, Indigenous communities all over North, Central and South America witness and partake in the tradition of receiving runners with ceremonies, sharing stories, song, dance and the wisdom that comes from community elders.
Peace and Dignity Journey runners start simultaneously from both ends of the continent in Chickaloon and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina traversing the entire continent by foot from community to community and joining together for a final gathering in Panama, Central America. Hector Cerda, group spokesperson said to Lakes District News that every four years the run is marked by a different theme. The 2012 run is dedicated to water.
“Water is an important resource and a shared resource for all,” he said.
“There is a lot of issues with water from industry like mining effecting the salmon. Water is being poisoned,” he added.
Cerda said they started off with 14 runners in Chickaloon, but then split into several groups soon after, with the others traveling on foot through Eastern Canada, meeting up again at the end of the journey.
Several locals residents from Wetsuwet’en First Nation joined the runners through Decker Lake and into Burns Lake, where Burns Lake Band members, Chereen Patrick and Robert and Rayanne Charlie were on hand to welcome the runners into the Burns Lake Band’s Gathering Place. Patrick ran in the 2004 Peace and Dignity Journey dedicated to honour women and the feminine spirit and has since hosted Peace and Dignity Journey runners in Burns Lake.
Cerda said that many people join in along the way.
“Most run for a day, some for a week and others for the entire run,” he said.
Cerda said, “The origins of the Peace and Dignity Journey began with a gathering of more than 200 First Nations from Central, North and South America. They gathered to discuss the issues of First Nations and also discussed the arrival of Christopher Columbus and asked why a holiday would be celebrated for such painful beginning? Starting to celebrate Columbus Day is giving the wrong message. [Columbus Day is celebrated in the U.S. excluding the states of Hawaii, Alaska, and South Dakota as well as a number of Latin American countries including Spain].”
From the orders of the King and Queen of Spain, Columbus felt he had the godly right, but that was not so. Today, First Nations are still trying to fight for their rights. Where I live in California, tribes that are related by blood disagree on who has the bigger casino, or who would own the rights to a particular casino and this is not the way. So, starting in 1992, and every four years after, each Peace and Dignity Journey has been reconnecting Indigenous communities. Our native communities are scattered, but we remain connected through the core traditions our ancestors have given us.”
Marco Gomez, a runner from Guadalajara Jal, Mexico said he joined the Peace and Dignity Journey because he wanted to pray for water and the unity of our nations. “Only through unity can we face many of the problems we have in our communities,” he said.
“This run is very special for us. Our different nations all have the same teachings. We all respect the four elements. Water was the first medicine our creator gave to us … but it is treated like just another resource. People don’t realize that water has a spirit. In Mexico we are working to preserve our songs and our language. Our elders have the saying, ‘If you know where you have come from, you know where you are going.’ A lot of the youth are lost in the system. We have become consumers and they forget the teachings and forget where they come from. This run helps to wake up the dignity that we have lost. The circle is very important for us. In a circle, everyone is the same, no one is more important and everyone is the same level, regardless of religion or colour.”
At the end of each night’s run, the group gathers in a circle for a closing ceremony steeped in tradition, beginning with a smudging ceremony and ending with a giving and receiving ‘hugging’ ceremony and then a meal. The 96 staffs [wooden sticks] being carried by the runners on the journey, entrusted to the group by First Nation communities, are ceremonially laid to rest for the night. During the run, each runner carries a single staff for the day, holding upright the entire time. The other staffs are carefully wrapped in traditional blankets and travel in the support vehicle.
“The staffs are all unique. Our lead staff during this journey is from Chickaloon and has an eagle and condor feather and coloured bandanas representing two elders that passed away. They taught the kids how to build a salmon wheel and fish and a coal mine was built there near the school and is poisoning the water,” Cerda said.
The runners stayed at the Gathering Place over night and left for Stellako the next morning.