Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Run brings honor, awareness

MACY, Neb. -- Its been awhile since Barry Webster was asked to run so far.

The 40-year-old used to run full-court fast breaks and relays as a junior college point guard, but that was two decades ago. On Thursday, though, he agreed to shake away the rust so he could lead more than 20 American Indian runners from the powwow grounds here to Omaha for the first leg of the fifth Honor the Youth Spiritual Run.

"Its important for me to be involved. It's a great cause," said Webster, vice chairman of the Omaha Tribal Council in Macy.

Webster and other participants want to raise awareness of American Indian youth suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, tobacco abuse and violence.

From Omaha, the runners will pass through Lincoln, Neb., on their way to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation in Mayetta, Kan., more than 200 miles from Macy.

Webster was asked carry a 10-pound eagle staff akin to the Olympic torch shortly after arriving at the grounds around 6 a.m. The staff had been blessed by an Ojibwa elder before the first spiritual run, from Minneapolis to the Red Lake Indian Reservation, in 2005. On Thursday, Webster ran with the staff for a few yards before handing it off to Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain, who had driven 10 hours from his home reservation in northern Minnesota to run in the event.

"We think these are very sacred and significant runs," Jourdain said.

Before the eagle staff arrived in Red Lake in 2005, Jourdain said, the reservation suffered from a rash of youth suicides. Since, there hasn't been a single suicide on the reservation, he said. The spiritual run sparked an awareness of youth suicide on the reservation, and together, the community was able to begin to fight the problem.

In 2006, the Omaha Reservation was much like Red Lake. There were four youth suicides that year, but after runners bearing the staff arrived in Macy from Rosebud, S.D., there hasn't been a suicide.

But on both reservations, there still are numerous suicide attempts. That's why the run continues each year.

Ricky Saunsoci runs for those who have taken their own lives, but he also runs to represent his Omaha Tribe and his family. His niece, 11-year-old Colleen New Holy, said the suicides on the reservation were hard to deal with. But the run helped the community heal, when it arrived in 2006 and again when it left on Thursday, she said.

Saunsoci jogged out of Macy on U.S. Highway 75 with a group of runners from the Honor the Youth Organization in Minneapolis, the sun already popping out sweat on their backs and faces.

Saunsoci said he'd probably stop in Decatur, Neb., nine miles from Macy. He hopes that's enough, he said, to "honor the youth."