NESPELEM — This morning at the Nespelem Community Center nearly 100 runners, organizers and elders—most clothed in running shorts or spandex, colorful running shoes and orange shirts that read, “χ̆əl iʔ kʷw sqilxʷ,” on the front—stood in a large circle on the black top of the outside basketball court.
They stretched tired muscles, having run from Omak to Penial Ranch on the Columbia River Road then sleeping on the bleachers at the Nespelem Center yesterday—planning to run from Penial Ranch over Cache Creek and part way up Bridge Creek today on the Spirit of the Syilx Unity Run.
“We do this, what you’re doing, so we can live,” said elder Albert Foot, who stopped in Nespelem from Fort Peck, Montana en route to a relative’s memorial in Omak, before singing a song for the group.
In it’s seventh year the trip that will lead the group from Omak to Nespelem, to Keller’s San Poil Valley and then to Inchelium before running north to eventually end on May 3 at Christina Lake, British Columbia is the first to fully cross the Colville Reservation.
Last year, the run crossed the international border for the first time.
Colville Tribal Member and Keller resident Pam Nanamkin carried the honorary eagle feather across the border.
This year, Pam stood with her children Keller Condon, Angelina and Shundina Spencer.
“One of the reasons we’re here is to get to know each other,” said Kimberly Montgomery, one of the event’s organizers, talking to the large circle. “My hope for you today is you talk to each other about who you are, where you come from and what you do.”
Yesterday, passing Omak Lake, Montgomery said, local Jasin Wellons shared with her stories of an area landmark.
“The border separated us for many, many years, and so we really wanted to engage with our family members from the south and get to know the land and get to know the people: create an opportunity to be together. That’s really what it’s about,” said Jennifer Hood, Okanogan Nations Alliance program manager.
“The border’s invisible. It’s just a line that separates our people, and we shouldn’t let it.”
One of the run’s functions is to bring awareness to suicide and violence.
Tonight at the Inchelium Community Center, where the runners will stay, founder of Healthy Active Natives Waylon Pahona will speak to the group that includes youth as young as five or six and elders alike.
Organizers expect more runners to join for the final legs of the run.
“It means so much not only for myself to see more of the nation, but for the youth to experience the other parts of the territory they’ve never seen before,” said ONA Chief Harvey McCloud. “For them to get together and just have some fun, get a little bit of awareness about life. There’s so much more to life then what they do back home.”
“Knowing whatever they face in life, they’ve got a lot of help here.”
The run will stop at the Nespelem Center again to honor the elders attending the Colville Tribal History and Archaeology Elders Dinner at 12 p.m. before crossing Cache Creek.