This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on March 2, 2006.


By Ed Odeven

“Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds,” someone once said.

For the Hopi Tribe, running is a sacred tradition, a link from the past to the present. It’s an activity that’s been proudly passed on from generation to generation.

Nowadays, Richard Dawavendewa, 39, is one of many individuals committed to preserving the significance of running for Hopis.

“I think at this point and age all we can do is try to carry on the knowledge and the traditions that we do know and make sure that they are being continued and practiced in the right way — how it was meant to be,” Dawavendewa said.

“(Running) should be a habit, a constant, not just an off-and-on approach.”

The Tuba City High School art teacher and cross country coach, is one of more than two dozen Hopis ranging in age from 12 to 74 — Krystyne Sumatzkuku is the youngest, Bob Mac Harris is the elder of the group — who are taking a 2,000-mile trek called the 2006 H2opi To Mexico City Run.

Some New Mexico Pueblo tribes and Ivan Gamble, a Navajo man from LeChee, are also taking part. They will arrive in Mexico on March 15 for the 4th World Water Forum. (See the related story on A2.)

The 14-day journey began Thursday at Coyotes Springs in the Moencopi Village. There was a water-blessing ceremony at sunrise.

Today, the group ran to Zuni, N.M. Saturday’s journey extends from Zuni to Isleta, N.M. Sunday’s trek: Isleta to Truth or Consequence, N.M.

Each of the group’s runners will cover about 15 to 30 miles per day by foot. Support personnel will follow them in vehicles, and after one portion of the group finishes its run for the day another will begin its stage. All in all, they’ll run from dawn till dusk during this grueling journey. Think of it as two-week relay race.

So why are they going to Mexico City?

In short, Dawavendewa’s own experience underscores what’s happened on the Southwest’s native lands.

“I live in an area where we have a lot of local springs that were alive back in my grandfather’s day that are getting used up from the water that was being slurried out of Black Mesa for coal,” said Dawavendewa, who’s from the village of Lower Mungapi. “The (water) table level’s dropped significantly, so a lot of the local springs have dried up.”

As an official press release posted on its Web site, put it: The 4th World Water Forum seeks to raise “the awareness on water issues all over the world. As the main international event on water, it seeks to enable multi-stakeholder participation and dialogue to influence water policy making at a global level, thus assuring better living standards for people all over the world and a more responsible social behavior towards water issues in-line with the pursuit of sustainable development.”

Dawavendewa found out about the H2opi To Mexico City Run in December 2004. It piqued his interest, and then he attended a meeting in his village.

Since then, he’s been actively involved in the group.

“We’ve been helping out with various activities like fundraising, helping with the runs, donating bikes for the runs,” he said at a Flagstaff restaurant over lunch with his wife, Miranda, and their two young children, SiKuyva, 1, and Jacob, 5.

The celebrated artist also created the H2opi group’s official logo. (To help raise money for the H2Opi trip to Mexico, Black Mesa Trust and the H2opi Committee had commemorative T-shirts and sweatshirts made with the following words of wisdom:

“Water sustains all life. Her songs begin in the tiniest of raindrops into flowing rivers, travel to majestic oceans and thundering clouds and back to earth to begin again. When water is threatened, all living things are threatened.”

To prepare for the demanding physical rigors of this trip, Dawavendewa has increased his workouts and competitions in recent months. Last March, he ran in the Valley of the Sun Marathon. In January, he completed in the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half-Marathon with his oldest son, 16-year-old Lance. Dawavendewa completed the race in 1 hour, 57 minutes, 49 seconds. Also, he recently ran the 90 or so miles from Lower Mungapi to Dilkon in one day, he said.

“All those races were part of my preparation, in mileage and in different distances,” said Dawavendewa, who averages about 7 minutes per mile for shorter races but slows down his pace for longer treks.

The 1984 TCHS graduate points to his upbringing as a major factor as to why he still runs.

“I’ve been running for a long time just for the enjoyment of it,” he said.

In eighth grade, he began racing competitively and was a member of Tuba City’s junior varsity team in his first three years of high school.

After graduation, he moved to Phoenix and began racing on a regular basis.

In those days, he ran a race “at least one every weekend,” Dawavendewa said with a hint of pride in his voice.

“(I ran) mainly for me, for my enjoyment, challenging myself, different mileage, different road races, (including) marathons and half-marathons.”

These days, the NAU and University of North Dakota graduate (he earned two undergraduate degrees at the former, and a master’s in fine arts at the latter) actively embraces the way running keeps young and old physically fit.

He spoke about Sumatzkuku, the 12-year-old runner, and Harris, the 74-year-old, with equal admiration, detailing the youngster’s dedication and Harris’ legendary status on the Hopi Reservation.

“During the basket dance at lunchtime, they have these races that are footraces, … Bob Mac is always a constant presence in running those. Because of his stature, he just gets more recognition that way.

“He’s always beating somebody,” Dawavendewa said of Harris, laughing.

Basket-dance races are held in the autumn as part of the harvest celebration at various villages, including Shungopavi.

“They can be pretty challenging,” he said. “Not only the terrain, but the distance as well. For example in the village of Shungopavi, they go up that back side of the mesa, and that mesa is steep. You just literally stop and try to get up that hill.

“It’s all in dirt. It’s all literally cross country, running through the bushes. Literally climbing up the back side of the mesa.”

Just like it was centuries ago for Hopi runners.

In those days, “running was actually a means of carrying messages to other villages at that time,” Dawavendewa said. “We didn’t have any cars or roads or anything like that. So you needed to get your strongest runners out there to carry a message from one village to the next.”

Today, he said, an equally important message is this:

“…As you grow up, you do see the changes that have been made and you try to preserve what you can.”

The same is true about water.


In an article posted on, Dan Brannen details some of the most significant milestones that were recorded by Hopi runners. He writes:

“The Hopi Indians particularly have many stories told of their running prowess. Walter Hough described a Hopi Indian running 65 miles in eight hours, from Oraibi Pueblo (Oraivi) to Winslow, before turning around and running home. George Wharton James wrote in 1903 that on several occasions he had employed a young man to take a message to (Oraivi) to Keams Canyon, a distance of 72 miles, and that he had run the entire way and back within 36 hours. Another Hopi, Letayu, carried a note from Keams Canyon to Fort Wingate and returned, covering over 200 miles in three days. …

“The most famous of the Hopi Indians was Louis Tewanima, who won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters in the 1912 Olympics, and finished ninth in the 1908 Olympic Marathon. In his younger days he would reputedly run from his home to Winslow and back, some 120 miles, just to watch the trains pass.”