American Indian Leader Promoting ‘Sacred Run’

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

American Indian leader Dennis Banks is now in Japan to lay the groundwork for a 1995 run from Hokkaido to Okinawa that will celebrate the traditional Native American philosophy that “all life on Mother Earth is sacred.”

Once a target of U.S. government wrath particularly during the American Indian protests of the 1960s and ’70s, Banks, 55, has spent much of the past few years heading the “Sacred Run” organization he founded as a way of spreading his people’s spiritual philosophy around the world through running events.

“My job is to get those runners to take that message to the next village,” Banks said in an interview with the MDN. He added that “We must return to spiritual ways, and that’s what we’re gonna say…that’s why we’ll run in any country.”

The rough idea behind Sacred Run ’95 at this early stage is to have two groups of international runners — starting separately from Hokkaido in the north and the Okinawan islands in the south — make their way about 100 kilometers per day until they reach a common point: Hiroshima.

There, on Aug. 5, the runners and grassroots supporters are to stage their own events commemorating the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

The month-long event will conclude with a final three-day run to Nagasaki by Aug. 9, the date of that city’s own atomic bombing anniversary.

Banks said that the ’95 Sacred Run will be a symbolic one in that it marks the 50th year of the end of the Pacific War.

“It all began in a horrible way…and it ended in a horrible way with the dropping of the atomic bomb,” said Banks, who, as a U.S. Air Force soldier based in Japan in the mid-1950s, saw with his own eyes the bomb’s aftermath.

The ’95 run in Japan will also serve as a predecessor for a “summit of indigenous peoples” that Banks intends to call for Aug. 15 of that year in Okinawa.

Banks, of the Anishinabe tribe, founded the Kentucky-based Sacred Run organization in 1978, and has served since then as coach for the group’s annual runs.

During the running events in various countries around the world, Banks and other American Indian runners and artists make it a point to hold “cultural exchange” programs in each of the towns they pass through – get-togethers where the local residents are reminded of the message of the sacredness of the Earth and all that lives on it through American Indian singing, dancing and discussions.

Runners of the Sacred Run have so far tacked up about 26,000 miles in countries around the globe, and that’s not counting the 8,000 km during this year’s run held recently in Australia and New Zealand.

South Africa, particularly its Black townships, will be the site of the Sacred Run in 1994, a year when that country’s first democratic elections are slated. Banks hopes to meet at that time with African National Congress president Nelson Mandela.

Known as a leader in his own right as one of the founding members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968, Banks has been an outspoken activist on Indian self-sufficiency and the inherent sovereignty of native North American lands.

He was a prominent figure in a number of widely publicized events of outright rejection of U.S government policies and treatment, including the occupation of San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island in 1969; the “Trail of Broken Treaties” march on Washington D.C. and subsequent occupation of the U.S. government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters there in 1972; and the 71-day occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973.

Banks later served time behind bars for his activities. But that does not seem to have deterred him even now from speaking out for the release of one of his closest comrades of those days, Leonard Peltier, an American Indian who has been imprisoned for the last 17 years — wrongly, in the opinion of many in and outside the American Indian community — in connection with the shooting deaths of two FBI agents in June 1975 at the Pine Ridge reservation, South Dakota.

Although Banks has long since turned his focus away from the political realm and more toward the promotion of Indian culture, he says he has by no means given up the continuing struggle faced by his people in America.

“I thought it was very necessary for me to return to strengthen the cultural base so that our political base is unquestionable,” he said. “Whatever we do culturally will end up with a political move. It can’t be the other way around. Strengthening the cultural part of us enhances the strength of our people.”

(More details on the ’95 Sacred Run in Japan can be obtained by contacting Yumiko Horikoshi in Osaka at (06) xxx-xxxx).