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Native-led spiritual Prayer Run passes through Provo

By Ashtyn Asay - | May 13, 2022
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A map of the 2022 Prayer Run.
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Advertisement for the 2022 Salt Lake City air protectors run.
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From left, Willson Atene, Gaby Alcala and Linda Jim pose for a photo.

Runners from the Native-led nonprofit SLC Air Protectors traveled through Provo Friday on their third annual Running As Medicine Prayer Run.

The theme of this year’s 360-mile run was “Healing Our Mother — Healing Ourselves,” which placed a special emphasis on not just individual spiritual healing, but the healing and restoration of the planet and social relationships.

“Running has traditionally been an integral part of body and mind wellness in Indigenous communities. This Medicine is especially needed now following years of economic and environmental challenges and isolation caused by the pandemic,” reads a press release distributed by SLC Air Protectors. “This year’s theme, Healing Our Mother–Healing Ourselves, aims to bring awareness to the interconnected nature of individuals, community, and the planet. Efforts to heal one inherently helps restore the others.”

The run began on Tuesday at the base of the Bears Ears National Monument, which served as a traditional gathering place for Hopi, Diné, Ute, Paiute and Zuni people. It will conclude Saturday at Warm Springs Park in Salt Lake City, which has cultural and historical significance to the Ute, Paiute and Shoshone nations.

Herbert Stash, a member of the Navajo Nation, is an experienced marathon runner, but what sets a Prayer Run apart from any typical race is its immense spiritual significance.

“We firmly believe that the act of running is also a sort of prayer,” Stash said. “So when I go on these prayer runs it’s always a different experience. To me, it always feels like there’s … a part that’s healing.”

For Stash, he didn’t just run for the healing of mother Earth, but for the healing of all the mothers in his life.

“Our mother is the Earth that we’re running on, so we just kind of pay homage to that and honor her too,” Stash said. “All the mothers that are related to us, or non-related, we always address them as our mothers or grandmothers. And to me, that speaks volumes about how we show respect to our moms.”

Stash also ran to bring awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, which sheds light on the human rights crisis of disproportionate violence experienced by indigenous women in the United States and Canada. This cause is particularly important to Stash — he is currently helping his sister search for her missing aunt.

“She is one of these cases, along with a lot of other cases on the Navajo Reservation that have gone unsolved,” he said. “So we’re just bringing awareness.”

Gaby Alcala, an indigenous woman from Mexico, traveled from California to attend the Prayer Run. Alcala is running because she believes so strongly in the importance of loving and respecting the Earth.

“We’re just visitors of the Earth, the Earth doesn’t belong to us we belong to the Earth,” she said. “We have to come and leave our footprints not in a trashy way, but in a way that we can support our families and teach them to respect mother Earth”

The Prayer Run also placed an emphasis on strengthening the relationships between Native communities and people living throughout Utah. Community members are invited to participate in the final leg of the journey. Those interested are encouraged to meet at Murray Park at 11 a.m. Saturday to travel with runners to Warm Springs Park, where a final celebration will be held. More information on the last leg of the run can be found at http://slcairprotectors.org/prayer-run.

A virtual participation option is also available. Individuals can photograph themselves running or walking and post it on social media with their prayers, using the hashtags #SLCAirProtectors, #RunningAsMedicine and #HealingOurMotherHealingOurselves.

SLC Air Protectors was founded in 2017 following protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

“The Elders made the request when it came time to break camp, ‘to go home and work in your local area,'” reads a press release distributed by SLC Air Protectors. “Our founders choose to focus on air quality issues and our mission is to protect the natural environment and to support the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous peoples as stewards of the land.”


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