Every spring, O’odham people representing the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community, Tohono O’odham Nation and Ak-Chin Indian Community come from as far as California to run in the almost 300-mile sacred Unity Run.
This year, hundreds of runners made their way northward along the relay course from Sonora, Mexico, ending the five-day run in the Community on Friday, March 22. At about 11 a.m., they stopped at the Salt River Community Building for a prayer circle and lunch break before ending the run at Red Mountain.
The Unity Run was founded in 1995 by a small group of Onk-Akimel O’odham, Akimel O’odham, Tohono O’odham and Hia-Ced O’odham people from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border who do not recognize that political dividing line separating their shared culture. The group’s main goal is to bring awareness to youth and adults of the legacy that our ancestors gave to us centuries ago.
Organizers also hope to teach youth about the cultural practice dealing with spirituality and emotional and physical wellness, and also encourage them to stay away from drugs, alcohol, gangs and other social ills.
All Unity Run participants abide by rules that teach respect and awareness of the land. During the run, nothing is permitted that distracts participants from listening to and focusing on the O’odham Himdak, including drugs, alcohol, radios, music players, electronic games, gang-related attire or weapons.
SRPMIC Vice-President Martin Harvier welcomed the runners as they came into the Community. He said, “I was thinking about all the younger ones running with you. I want to thank you older ones for looking out for them and being a good example. Believe it or not, throughout this whole week the older ones have been an example of how to conduct themselves, especially in spiritual events like this.
It is not a race—it’s a run, [a time] to think about the things we are facing [personally] and what our Community is facing. We have many issues in our communities. Hopefully you were able to think good thoughts and say prayers not only for yourself, but for your family, friends and Community. This is also a good time to be together and get to know each other. I encourage you all to keep doing things like this.”
SRPMIC members were happy to participate this year and hope to continue in future Unity Runs. Melissa Archie, who grew up in California, expressed her happiness at being part of the event. Although she didn’t grow up in Salt River, she was happy to participate in the Unity Run and get to know her O’odham relatives.
“This many people,” said Community member Sam King, who became emotional when describing the feeling of seeing all the runners come into Salt River and participating. “We need to come together like this and build it bigger.”