Lakota Country Times: Native youth finish 1400-mile run to Standing Rock

Shane Phillips, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is seen in Meeker, Colorado, during a leg of the 1,400-mile run to North Dakota. Photo from Perseverance for Preservation

Hopi 15-Year-Old Leads 1400-Mile Run To Standing Rock
By One Spirit For The Lakota Country Times

RAPID CITY --At 5 am on October 28, a group of Native American runners left Flagstaff, Arizona, to run 1,400 miles to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Riley Ortega, a 15-year-old Hopi, created the Perseverance for Preservation Run.

“When I found out about the Dakota Access Pipeline it was important to help my people at Standing Rock,” he said, “because everyone needs water. When the DAPL ruptures, it contaminates the Missouri River and the water supply we all need to survive.”

Young Ortega said a long run to Standing Rock seemed like the best way to raise awareness and to honor the original runners who started the No DAPL movement when they ran 2,000 miles to the White House last April. Riley also wanted to honor his late uncle, Dennis Poolhaca, who was a marathon runner. Riley’s cousin and Poolhaca’s son, Steven, would run the 1,400 miles to North Dakota with him. So would Riley’s ten-year-old brother, Logan Ortega.

Montgomery Brown of Standing Rock read about Riley’s Perseverance for Preservation Run and contacted him to lend his support. He said he would run with him. So did Joseph White Eyes, Lawrence Lind III, Lavern Jefferson and Donniell Wanatee.

Six months earlier the five of them - along with other youths from Standing Rock - had run 2,000 miles to the White House. They began each day with prayer and ended each day with prayer. They still do.

“The power of prayer is phenomenal,” Brown said.

They ran 2,000 miles to carry a petition that they wanted to deliver in person to President Obama explaining why the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) must be stopped. Water is sacred. DAPL would contaminate the Missouri River, the longest river in North America and desecrate sacred burial grounds.

But the runners did not get to deliver their petition or meet with the President after running all that way to the White House.

They returned to North Dakota still determined to stop DAPL. There they helped create a campground near the pipeline that is prayer-based. As water protectors they would pray and commit acts of non-violent resistance to the pipeline.

DAPL would destroy sacred burial sites and go under the Missouri River next to the Standing Rock Reservation. Authorities say it will leak or break as hundreds of pipelines already have, and that it will contaminate the Missouri River which provides water to the Standing Rock Reservation, to other tribal nations and to18 million people downstream.

“Indigenous people are the first caretakers of the earth and look what’s happened to it today," Montgomery Brown said. "People are sick of being oppressed. We said ‘enough!’ And look at all the movements today - the environmentalist movements, Black Lives Matter, the other movements. And who’s leading all of these movements? It’s the young people. We’re younger than 25, the Seventh Generation. It’s time we hold our heads up. The prophecy is coming true.”

Brown said runs are a good way to raise awareness and he wanted to support Riley Ortega. So in October he and the other four runners who had gone to the White House with him borrowed a bus. They drove to Arizona to meet Riley and run 1,400 miles with him to the campground at the Standing Rock Reservation.

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Archambault urges all who are able, to come there and join them in prayer and non-violent resistance to the pipeline. So far members of 300 indigenous tribes have come to support them and protect the water. Non-natives are joining them too.

Ricky Gray Grass, an Oglala Lakota spiritual adviser from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, also read about Riley Ortega’s Perseverance for Preservation Run. He wanted to lend support too. He offered to be a guide and meet the runners from Arizona with young Oglala Lakota runners from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The two groups of runners met in Utah. They come from seven tribes: Hopi, Oglala Lakota, Cheyenne River Sioux, Standing Rock , Dine-Navajo, Apache and Meskwaki. But they are going to Standing Rock for everyone.

The run was grueling. Most of the runners had not run in altitudes of 7,000 feet before. They ran relay-style night and day through rough terrain and mountains, usually without stopping.

“We’re doing this for the future to come,” Ricky Gray Grass said. “Nothing grows without water. We need to protect our resources for our children and grandchildren as our ancestors protected them for us."

A few days before reaching North Dakota they stopped to spend the night in a small town. The hotel manager there told them they didn't belong since they were in oil country​.  He advised them to stay out of sight until certain other guests left the hotel ​the following​ morning. 

​The​ runners then circled as they did every evening with Advisor Gray Grass. They prayed. They shook hands. 

Shortly afterward a policeman approached him and said the business manager, the customers, the property owner -​ all had called the police to report that everyone in their group was "involved in suspicious activity."

Therefore, the policeman told ​Advisor Gray Grass, ​it would be best for all of them to leave town. He suggested they go to a town 40 miles away to spend the night​.

Gray Grass advised the runners to stay in their rooms and be quiet until morning.

Someone learned about this incident and phoned him the next morning to make sure the runners were safe.

Gray Grass reassured the caller matter-of-factly with a text message, "I prayed for the hotel manager, the cop and the business owner. We'll be okay." 

​He had prayed -- for their accusers. ​ And the runners were back at it going full steam down the highway that day and every day until they reached Standing Rock, committed as if nothing had happened.

Despite ever-growing numbers of armed police clad in riot gear in North Dakota, all of these young runners are steadfastly and committed to protect the water using prayer and non-violent resistance to DAPL.

One of them is 21-year-old Trevor Standing Soldier. When asked why it was so important for him to do this run to Standing Rock he said, "It's important to me because we need water, everyone needs water. I'm doing it because we're helping this young boy from Arizona who started the run. I'm doing it because water is life. It's so important. This is not just a native thing. It's for everybody.”

And by November 4, they had been running for days and were only one day away. Everybody was exhausted, The next day they would finally reach the Standing Rock campground.

On Saturday, November 5, after running hundreds and hundreds of miles through mountains and prairies and high plains desert, the runners ran the last miles to the Standing Rock campground together. When they reached it, they walked in through the avenue of tribal nation flags.

“The Horse Warriors walked us in and we even had a sacred pipe escort,” Montgomery said quietly, adding they hadn’t expected such an honor. They were moved and grateful.

“The fruits of our labor really came to fruition. Thank you to anyone and everyone who supported us whether spiritually, mentally or physically. It meant a lot to us,” he said.

On Sunday morning after their first night at Standing Rock, Julian Bear Runner said, “We got some rest and ate a good meal last night. We’re feeling good.”

Now they plan to help protect the water.

John Little Fox DuBray is an Oglala Lakota elder on Pine Ridge Reservation. He said, “The first principle of the Lakota is compassion, concern for others. Indians think of the actions we do and how those actions will affect the unborn. The United States has to learn the Indian heart.”

(For more information about One Spirit, contact Jeri Baker, executive director, at

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