The trip from Vancouver to Anchorage is long and lonely — especially if you make it on foot.
That’s why Graci Horne brought 11 of her brothers, sisters, cousins and friends along for the run.
“From Smithers to Iskut, it was just so desolate,” said Horne. “I had the eeriest feeling in the world when I got to Meziadin Junction. I’m from South Dakota, the plains — and it’s really barren there, but not like this.”
With roads that end at glaciers, and no connection to the outside world, the remoteness of the BC interior was unnerving.
“I had to get over that and push myself,” she said.
The second Prayer Run for World Peace, as it’s dubbed, started on May 14th at the Musqueam First Nation in Vancouver, and will culminate at the Eklutna Reservation near Anchorage on June 18.
Horne and the runners took a day off in Whitehorse on Tuesday to fix one of their vans and do laundry.
She outlined her reasons for the trek.
“We run for world peace and Mother Earth — but also to get youth out of the reserve,” said Horne, a member of the Dakota Nation.
“Most of the youth I brought with me are from South Dakota, Cheyenne River. Most have never been out of the States, so it gives them an opportunity to realize what they’re inheriting.
“Our elders tell us that ‘you’re going to be the inheritors, and you have to think seven generations ahead.’”
“You can’t really grasp that until you get to see it,” said Horne. “This is an opportunity to see that — even I have never seen so many bears or moose!”
Horne speaks with grand vision, but she comes by it honestly.
Her father is Sioux chief Arvol Looking Horse, one of the most prominent Native American spiritual leaders.
Looking Horse was inspired to create the Wolakota Foundation after the birth of a prophesized white buffalo calf in 1994.
Since 1996, he held a World Peace and Prayer day every year at different sacred sites around the world, including the Black Hills in South Dakota, Barumbak, Australia, and Mt. Fuji in Japan.
Wanting to do something of their own, Horne and her older brother planned a four-direction run to coincide with the 2005 World Peace and Prayer Day celebrations, held once again in the Black Hills.
Runners would start at Los Angeles, El Paso, Texas, Massachusetts and the Canadian Border at Minnesota, and come together at the Black Hills.
The project was jeopardized when Horne’s brother was seriously injured in a car accident, but she decided to continue with it.
“When you commit to something, you have to follow through with it,” she said. “Your commitment, your sacrifice is all you have. The rest, including your body, will return to the earth.”
When the inaugural run was finished, Horne knew she wasn’t finished running.
“When we actually ran into the sacred site, I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything — I never cried; I felt like I needed to keep doing this.”
She committed to doing the run four more times, but expanded the four directions concept to a global scale.
This year is the northern run.
The Alaskan Natives at the Eklutna Reservation will welcome the runners and celebrate the World Peace and Prayer day on June 21st, the summer solstice, which is also the Canadian Aboriginal Day.
Next year, the Prayer Run will start in South Dakota and head south to Mexico City.
In 2008, an east-west run is planned for New Zealand, and the last year will re-enact the four-directions in the US again.
Horne’s vision is to instill hope, encourage commitment and lead by example, “being a new kind of warrior to battle modern-day obstacles.”
Travelling to many native communities along the way has enriched Horne’s connection to her own heritage, she said.
“I’ve been inspired to get back into my own culture, although I was raised in it; I’m only now learning the language.
“Each community we go through, they share songs with us and they share traditional food with us; it’s pretty cool. It makes me happy and it makes me proud to be native.”
She’s also hoping to shake some of the stigma attached to religious faith.
“We promote prayer, and our name is self-explanatory,” she said.
“When you talk about religion, people get scared of each other, and yet, prayer should be a good thing.
“People think I’m an evangelist, or something, when I talk about prayer.
“I’m not pushing my religion on you. I’m saying be proud of what you are, and where you come from.”