Six participants in the Peace & Dignity Journeys, a run for native and non-native people who are committed to the preservation of Native American culture, stopped in Patterson’s downtown South Park Thursday, Aug. 9, while staying with the parents of local participant Daniel Mejia.
Runners eventually planned to meet up in Guatemala with other groups who were traveling from Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, carrying staffs that represent their ancestors along the way.
Mejia, a Patterson native who is a senior at Fresno State University, found out about the event after meeting some of the organizers when he became involved with an Aztec dance group at the university. He said last week that the trip had been an amazing experience, offering the opportunity to meet various people and to view natural wonders, as participants prayed for the health of bodies of water along the way.
“You really see the connections we have all across North America,” Mejia said, noting that people have offered runners food and places to sleep in the various towns where they have stayed.
This year’s run marks the sixth time the event has occurred since 1992, and it has taken place every four years ever since. Organizers say the journey is inspired by an ancient prophecy — known by Indians throughout the Americas — about the reunification of the Eagle and the Condor.
Representatives from the Peace & Dignity Journeys say the prophecy — like the event — is concerned with the unity of the indigenous peoples of the south (represented by the Condor) and of the north (represented by the Eagle.)
“This prophecy mandates that at this time, all Indigenous Peoples in the Western Hemisphere shall be reunited in a spiritual way in order to heal our nations so we can begin to work towards a better future for our children and generations to come,” states a flier posted on several websites about the venture.
"Through the Journeys, participant runners and supporters work to accomplish this goal by helping each other reconnect to their respective spiritual practices and traditions; by helping each other relearn our role in the world as Indigenous Peoples; and by reminding each other of our responsibilities to Mother Earth, Father Sky, our communities and ourselves."
Mirna Juárez, a participant from Lodi, summed it up this way: “The overall purpose is to reconnect our communities the way they once were — to reconnect them in a spiritual way," she said.
On Aug. 9, the runners gathered with a few Patterson residents, including Mayor Luis Molina, during their respite in South Park, where they gathered in a circle.
Molina welcomed the group in both Spanish and English, thanking them for their sacrifices and pledging to pray for a blessing on their journey.
Then runners took turns discussing their thoughts during the day before gingerly laying down their staffs on a blanket in the middle of the circle they formed.
Those staffs came in all different shapes and sizes, from one that was thinner than a pencil to a few that were more than an inch thick. One contained a flag from a university and another, made in a prison cell, contained the names of fellow prisoners on ribbons that were attached. All were decorated with feathers.
“The staffs represent our ancestors,” Mejia said, before participants laid them down. “We treat them like babies because they’re not ours.”
Several participants, including Stockton runner Javier Gardea, described the run as a spiritual venture, distinguishing it from other kinds of long-distance runs. In addition to praying against the contamination and loss of water sources, runners prayed for the healing of their nations, according to online information about the run.
“It’s a different kind of thing,” Gardea said. “We’ve had marathon runners who have dropped out.”
Runners must abstain from drugs and alcohol while on the journey, in keeping with the sacred nature of the venture, according to details of the run posted online. Runners may commit to run for as little as one day or the entire duration of the journey.
While the group that passed through Patterson last week traveled through the Central Valley, other groups that started in the north are traveling along other routes, including California’s coastline, the Sierra Nevada range, the Midwest, the Caribbean islands and the East Coast.
Daniel Mejia’s father, Clemente Mejia, said he enjoyed meeting the various runners last week and admired their efforts.
“There’s a sense of community and power,” Clemente Mejia said. “I’m very happy that my son’s enjoying it.”
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.