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Indigenous run the length of the Americas for water, way of life

October 2, 2012

From Alaska to Argentina, the indigenous people of the Americas are uniting in an epic “Race for Peace and Dignity” and will eventually converge beside ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala.

First held in 1992, the “Carrera de Jornadas de Paz y Dignidad” is a marathon run every four years by indigenous people from across the continent, as a means of promoting their ways of life and drawing attention to problems facing their communities. The lengthy route will take the runners through Guadalajara and along (and across) Lake Chapala next week.

“We run from sunrise until the end of the day, when we’re received by local communities,” says Cecilia Mejia, a Jalisco native whose journey began in Canada in May and will finally end in Guatemala in November.

“We’ve slept in public places, community centers, schools, gyms, auditoriums, soccer and basketball pitches,” she adds. “It’s difficult. It’s a challenge because you’re running all day and you do get tired … but each night when you sleep you wake up reinvigorated.”

Since its inception, the race has received the support of Tunkul, a 27-year-old pre-Hispanic music and dance group based in Guadalajara. Last year several members went to Canada for National Aboriginal Day. Paying their own fares out of pocket, they played a gala concert there to raise funds for this year’s race.

The collective always provides around six or seven runners, with this year’s participants including Marco Tulio Gomez. A Guadalajara native, Gomez is one of just three Mexicans to run the entire route from the outset on May 1.

“The race is being led by many young people, and this makes us really happy,” says Tunkul coordinator Maria Patricia Aguirre, noting that it is difficult to maintain the traditions and ideology of different indigenous groups in new generations.

From Canada and the United States, two groups of runners, normally numbering around 20 at any given time, have traveled down through northern Mexico in separate routes, while a third group of cyclists has come down through Baja California. All will all meet up at the Teotihuacan pyramids outside Mexico City before continuing on to Peten, Guatemala, where they will unite with some who have come from as far as Patagonia’s southern tip.

“Most indigenous peoples in North America are represented by the eagle and those in South America by the condor, so the batons they’re carrying have feathers from both birds,” says Alejandro Mendo, a Tunkul member and a professor at the ITESO university in Guadalajara.

“According to Mayan prophecy, when the southern condor and the northern eagle meet we will go back to being one united people,” explains Mejia.

Mayan prophecy also influenced the decision to end the pilgrimage at a Mayan site in Guatemala. “We wanted to take advantage of the fact that all of the world will be watching” this region at the end of the year, Mendo says, in reference to the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar, interpreted by some as a doomsday prediction.

Publicity is important because the indigenous groups want to raise awareness of the theme of this year’s race: water.

Water should be a “universal right,” says Mendo, but instead “it is being commercialized by large corporations.” Not only is access to drinking water a concern, but also the treatment of natural water sources, especially here in Jalisco.

On Sunday several runners will take part in an alternate route to El Salto, to protest the construction of a dam and draw public attention to the “very grave pollution” in the Rio Santiagio which passes through there.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, the river was clean, but then these trans-national businesses arrived and polluted the water,” says Gabriel Mariscal, before another member of the collective declares “this is our land. It used to be a paradise, our grandparents used to fish and bathe in the river.”

Arriving in Jalisco on Friday, most runners will follow the principal route through sites of interest to the indigenous community, including Ixtlan del Rio, La Quemada, Magdalena, Teuchitlan, Teopantli Kalpulli, Ojo de Agua and Santa Ana Tepetitlan.

On Monday they will move through Guadalajara, arriving at Bosque Colomos around 2 p.m. and then running along Patria, Avila Camacho, Alcalde/16 de Septiembre, Revolucion, 20 de Noviembre and Cuauhtemoc to Analco, where they will arrive around 6 p.m. On Tuesday, October 2 they will pass through Tonala, Junacatlan and Atequiza, before arriving in Mezcala on the shores of Lake Chapala on Wednesday at around 3 p.m. and then in Ajijic at 6 p.m.

On the morning of Thursday, October 4 the runners will take to the water in boats provided by local fishermen and tour guides. Setting sail from Ajijic, the plan is to leave offerings at the sacred Isla de las Alacranes before sailing to the far shore of Lake Chapala and continuing their journey in the state of Michoacan.

“The island is sacred for the indigenous Huicholes because there’s a tree there which they believe is responsible for all of the rain in the whole region,” Mendo explains.

The island is also one of five Huichol ceremonial centers, each of which corresponds to a cardinal point and reflects important aspects of the tribe’s mythology. Each year  Huichol pilgrims travel from the Sierra Madre to this, the southernmost of their sacred points, to conduct rituals and leave offerings including candles, chocolate, corn, gourds arrows and feathers.

The runners invite the Lakeside community to watch them and have welcomed their continual support. “Many people from the American and Canadian community have helped us ever since 1992,” Aguirre notes.

For exact locations, times and all the latest information, search “Jornadas de Paz y Dignidad 2012 Honrando el agua” on Facebook.

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