In January, a team of filmmakers, conservationists, professional ultrarunners, and Navajo athletes completed a 250-mile relay between the two endangered national monuments, broken down into six-mile legs. A nine-minute mini-documentary, Messengers, shows off some of the surreal scenery the runners traversed and discusses some of the reasons the 17 people banded together for the cause.
Speaking to The Guardian, filmmaker and event organizer Greg Balkin explained the impetus behind the relay: “The idea was to use something we love—running—to celebrate the area and the immense cultural significance woven into it… [and] to better understand why the land—and places like it across the country—should stay public and protected.”
For as troubling as these developments may be for trail runners and hikers, the potential harm done to the largely untouched swaths of southwestern land resonates on additional levels for Native American runners. Running is ingrained into the culture of many local tribes, and the land that comprises the monuments in question contains many sacred sites.
Accordingly, the Bears Ears Prayer Run Alliance—in partnership with Wings of America, the Utah Diné Bikéyah, and The Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples—begins a multifaceted protest relay run on March 12, originating at four points throughout the Southwest, and converging in White Rock, Utah, on March 15.
The relay—collectively called Sacred Strides for Healing—is largely comprised of members of local tribes like the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe. And on March 16, all participants will run to a gathering site on the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s land near Bears Ears for prayer, to learn more about the precarious status of these lands and present testimonies to Tribal leaders, which will be used to help bolster efforts to preserve them.