Graffiti artist Paul Pablo of Tohono O’odham Nation and other artists gather at the Recreation football field to create art on 40 4-by-8-foot wood panels.

Annual Run Raises Money and Preserves the O’odham Culture

By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News

Runners and organizers of the annual Unity Run held the fourth annual O’odham Unity Run Benefit Show in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community on Saturday, February 26 to raise money and food donations for O’odham runners from the Salt River, Gila River and Ak-Chin communities, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and Mexico who will participate in the 16th Annual Unity Run.

This year’s Unity Run Benefit Show featured artists, musicians, vendors and more. The event started off with a skateboarding demonstration by Apache Skateboards, who set up a mini skate park on the Recreation park basketball courts. Following the demonstration, graffiti artists were provided with 40 4-by-8-foot wood panels to create a sectional graffiti mural.

“This year, we extended the live-art section of the outdoor portion of the benefit. Amy Juan, Paul Pablo and a couple of other young members of the Tohono O’odham Nation and supporters of the Unity Run brought up the wood panels,” said Thomas “Breeze” Marcus. “We were able to host nearly two dozen graffiti artists from Phoenix, Tempe, Salt River, Gila River, Tucson, Tohono O’odham, San Carlos and New Mexico, ranging from 16 to 47 years old.”

Unity Run organizers were onsite cooking Indian frybread as a part of the food sale. The sale continued inside the Salt River Community Building, where musical artists DJ Element (Salt River), Blackfire (Flagstaff), Definition Rare (Albuquerque, New Mexico), Shining Soul and Darrell D (Phoenix/Tohono O’odham Nation), Cozmobrown and DJ Lingos w/QKNR (Tucson/Phoenix) and DJentrification (Phoenix) performed. During the musical acts, attendees also were able to visit vendor and information booths.

“This year’s event raised just over $1,000, which is just a little more than we raised at last year’s benefit,” said Marcus. “I think everyone involved behind the scenes, as well as the attendees, really enjoyed this year’s event, even more than previous years. Anytime communities come together for a good cause, such as preservation of our Himdag (way of life), and together put forth tremendous effort and hard work, it is always a blessing for all those involved which no amount of money can ever compare to.”

The Unity Run
The Unity Run is a relay-style run that will start at S’vegium Tho’ag (Red Mountain) on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and wind south through the Gila River Indian Community and Tohono O’odham Nation, ending at Chethagi Waihia (Pozo Verde) in Sonora, Mexico.

The Unity Run was founded in 1995 by a small grassroots group of Tohono O’odham and Akimel O’odham people from Mexico and the United States. The group’s main goal is to bring awareness to the youth and adults of the legacy that their ancestors left them centuries ago.

The Akimel O’odham, Hia-Ced O’odham and Tohono O’odham have long been known for their expertise in long-distance running in the desert regions of what is now the southwestern United States and Mexico. For more than 150 years, the O’odham nations have dealt with separation by the U.S.-Mexico border. O’odham people do not acknowledge this political separation within the O’odham culture, and encourage the unity to continue.

Coordinators are actively working to perpetuate O’odham culture and history.

Reinstating the tradition of running and the spirituality that comes with running is a challenge to help unite, preserve, heal and respect the history, language and culture.

“On behalf of the organizers of the benefit, the Unity Run and its runners, we would like to thank everyone who came out and participated,” said Marcus. “Your continuous and invaluable support is very important to us and recognized.”

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