Running and Native Americans


I guess I will start with something that made me kinda upset, the school I teach at is a University for only federally recognized Native Americans.  It’s a great place to teach and I get to meet great people all the time.  The one thing that brought me here though was my dream to be a great runner like Billy Mills, and if you don’t know who he is, he is the ONLY American to win a gold medal in the 10,000 meter run in the Toyko Olympics 1964.  And he is Native American, a Lakota from South Dakota, the Oglala Lakota Nation.

Ever since I watched his movie based on his life “Running Brave” I wanted to be just like him.  I thought, if I followed his path to Haskell in Lawrence, Kansas, run the same paths he did, boom, my career would take off…lol.  Not so, I didn’t have the gift, but I have the love for running to continue running road races after having two children, and in the next year take on the marathon.

Haskell has a great running tradition in track and cross country. Haskell is the home to Billy Mills when he won numerous state titles in track and cross country when Haskell was a high school.  It was also the home for a small time to Jim Thorpe, and other prominent stars like Al Waquie who won the Empire State Building running up from 1983-1987, not to mention a stellar career at Haskell when it was a Junior College.  I could go on and on about the titles in the trophy case, the great runners, but here is the problem. This spring, the track team was notified it was not going to be a team any longer.  The division the school participates in does not recognize track and other reasons like lack of runners, and a poor track were also given by the Athletics Director Ted Juneau.  So no more track.  When I heard about this, I was totally dumbfounded, how could a school with such a history and cultural significance tied to running cancel the sport? What the heck is going on here? When we have people trying to tell our students to go out and be healthy, run, excercise and you cancel their sport, what does that say to them?

As a Acoma Pueblo from New Mexico, my people are runners, as a child, I knew how important running was to our culture.  I always knew I would be a runner, and remain a runner.  I love to run, it helps me keep that peace inside, it is my way of praying with the earth.  When I wake up before the sun and get out before a lot of people, that silence is all for me and the world.  I love the way I hear my breathing, I can feel my heart, and I know I probably am smiling even though its cold or I am still tired, but that is what running is.  It is life for us and to take that away from my fellow Native American brothers and sisters makes me sad.  My students interviewed two runners and you could see how upset they were, not being able to compete and represent Haskell in a track meet. Not many people know what Haskell is.  It is a tradition, it is our people, and we need to be representing in track to educate those schools that never knew about Haskell or maybe even met a Native American Indian.  We also, and if I can sound a bit proud, should be kicking some running booty, as many of our runners are great athletes.  The loss of this program is terrible, and I don’t know what can be done, I wish I was rich so I could give those runners the money to compete and get that track fixed if that is the only problem. But I know, as well as they know, most runners don’t like running on the track until it is time to compete, we run out in the streets, in the wetlands, and on trails. I hope that those students don’t give in the temptation to become lazy, or go out and party, but continue that prayer with the earth and our people, and keep running.  Onward Haskell

Here is the link to the haskell news with the track runners interview at (3:49)

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