This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.

H2opi’s epic run to Mexico won’t be forgotten

By Ed Odeven

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. (April 13, 2006) — These are faces and voices that share an ancient wisdom. And their strong legs carried them more than 2,000 miles to share an important reminder:

Water is essential to all living things.

The 27 H2opi Run participants, ranging in age from 12 to 74 who left the village of Lower Mungapi (on the outskirts of Tuba City) on March 2, embarked on a life-changing mission they believed in with every ounce of their beings. And after 14 days on the road, the Hopi runners arrived in Mexico City on March 15 for the Fourth World Water Forum.

In the words of Ruben Saufkie Sr., the H2opi Run coordinator, this was a “run of respect for water.”

This was probably the longest relay run in the history of the Americas, maybe even the world.

Each day, the runners, including Navajo Ivan Gamble of LeChee and New Mexico Pueblos, rose at dawn and began another journey. Some ran 10-15 miles a day, others went 20-30. Someone, or several people, from the group was always running during daylight hours.

At night, they slept in a larger charter bus, in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or Mexico. They met with other native peoples along the way and shared songs and dances and traditional prayers.

On their journey, traditional values played a significant role. Each runner took with them an ear of Hopi corn, a traditional Hopi planting stick and a gourd of water (water taken from each Hopi village’s spring which was combined with water that was given to the H2opi Committee from nations near and far).

Twelve of the runners and a gathered crowd of friends, family and community members formally celebrated their return to Arizona last Saturday at the Hopi Veteran’s Memorial Center in Kykotsmovi.

A potluck lunch, slide show and personal reminiscences helped the visitors gain a greater sense of what happened over the first few weeks of March.

“We were all elated, all excited, about finishing the journey,” said Richard Dawavendewa, a 39-year-old Tuba City High School art teacher and cross country coach who spoke at length about this trip.

“I thought I was in decent shape, but towards the last week of the run I think I pulled something in my right groin muscle,” he added. “I was running on that for about three or four days just kind of enduring the pain.”

Reflecting on her yearlong preparation for the H2opi Run, Vivian Jones of Sichomovi spoke in a quiet, gentle manner and smiled constantly, revealing the satisfaction she has about accomplishing her goal.

“The days and the months went by fast …,” she said. “We had a lot of work fundraising, and I got interested in it because it was for my people and for all the living things of the world that needed water since everybody needs water for their plants, their vegetables, stuff that they need to eat.

“I didn’t just do it for myself. I just did it for the different types of peoples, all different nations, all living things from humans to insects on Mother Earth.”

Hendrickson Talayumptewa, 47, of Shungopavi, represented the Water Clan on this epic journey.

Simply put, he described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When the runners entered Mexico on March 7, the sixth day of their trip, they were informed snow had fallen in Hopiland and the surrounding areas.

For four days, rain and snow fell on northern Arizona, Talayumptewa’s wife informed him via cell phone.

“Great, at least we accomplished something,” he said, recounting their conversation, which was a reminder, too, that Hopis traditionally pray for rain to sustain their way of life.

Said Jones: “We cried on the way down when we heard it snowed up here. … That made us real happy.”

Now back in Kykotsmovi, Elden Kalesma of Sipaulovi spoke before the assembled crowd in vivid, emotional details about his journey.

“It was an overwhelming experience,” Kalesma said. “We learned about ourselves and one another and the power that we all have.”

Perhaps Vernon Masayesva, Black Mesa Trust’s executive director, best explained the significance of the H2opi Run.

“We have planted the seed. Many more events will sprout from this historic event,” Masayesva said as he narrated footage of a still-to-be-completed documentary.

Victor Masayesva, Vernon’s brother, is the director. He will condense 26 hours of footage into a 30-minute film.

As the Hopis ran to Mexico, traversing the rough, rugged terrain and enduring hot, sunny days, they were challenged mentally, physically and spiritually to stick with it.

It wasn’t easy.

“A lot of tears were shed, and with a lot of tears shed we knew how important our run was,” Saufkie said.

Bob Mac Harris, the 74-year-old elder of the group, kept everyone focused on the running day after day.

“He always managed to have a smile on his face,” Saufkie said, adding that Harris’ positivity gave everyone strength to finish the journey.

And so they ran and ran and ran. And like a loud, booming bass drum that echoes into the distance, 27 runners’ feet can cause a commotion, too.

This illustrates what Vernon Masayesva said on video about what the runners did:

“As feet hit the ground, it vibrates and carries this message to all four corners of the world.”

The New York Times, BBC Radio and other well-known media outlets covered the World Water Forum.

But perhaps one Mexican newspaper’s headline, which was shown at the Hopi Veteran’s Memorial Center, summarized their journey best:

Los Hopis corren por el aqua (Hopis run for water).”

In Mexico City, the Hopis received warm support and bountiful kindness from the people they met.

Case in point: At one function in downtown Mexico City, hosted by the city’s mayor, the Hopis received a standing ovation. Throughout their stay in Mexico, which included a visit to the sacred pyramids in Teotihuacan, Aztec, Puebla and Mayan dancers and tribal leaders met them and thanked them for their efforts.

“They said, ‘Welcome home,'” Saufkie said succinctly.

But there was still one leg of the journey remaining.

On Sunday, all 27 runners embarked on the final stage of their journey, a 45-mile trek from Hotvela to Lower Mungapi.

It was another relay-style run. Each Hopi ran a portion of the journey.

Now they were back in Lower Mungapi, the spot where they had originally placed their prayer feathers.

In the Hopi way, this signifies they’ve come full circle.

Yes, their journey is finished. But a powerful message lives on.