By Shawna Leader

For seven months, Western junior Enrique Lopez ran. He began in Eklutna, Alaska and, after running an average of seven to 15 miles a day and going through four pairs of shoes, he arrived in the Kuna Nation in Panama. While he was running south, other people were running north from Argentina to Panama.

Lopez was a participant in the Peace and Dignity Journey, a run that has taken place every four years since 1992. Runners on the Peace and Dignity Journey visit various indigenous communities on their way to Panama.

At 7 p.m. on May 21 in the Fairhaven Auditorium, Lopez will be presenting photos and footage from the journey, sharing stories and explaining why he went on the trip in the first place. The event is being put on by the AS ROP Social Issues and Resource Center (SIRC).

“Our goals are to raise the cultural, political, social and economical awareness of students and community members,” SIRC Assistant Coordinator Anna Boenish said.  “I think it’s really important when you have somebody from our community like Enrique who’s gone on such an amazing trip like this to let him have the opportunity to be able to share it with a wider audience.”

One of the main reasons Lopez chose to go on the run was to fulfill a Mayan prophecy, Lopez said. The prophecy foresees the unification of all indigenous peoples, he said.

“The Peace and Dignity Journeys are based on a prophecy of an eagle and a condor,” he said. “The condor people are the people from the south and the eagle are the people from the north…by us running different directions, us running from Alaska to Panama, and the condor people from the south, Argentina to Panama, we’re fulfilling that prophecy.”

Another reason Lopez decided to go was to honor his ancestors. His people are the Purehpecha from the Mexican state of Michoacán, he said.

“When I first heard about it [the Peace and Dignity Journey], something sparked in my spirit,” Lopez said. “Then I realized that that re-walking the footsteps of my ancestors wouldn’t be a bad idea …  To pay tribute, respect, honor, to the different territories, land and traditions of the people of the lands, as a way of seeing our indigenous people[s].”

The theme of the run in 2008 was sacred sites and Lopez came to realize that the theme was broadly interpreted across indigenous communities. According to Lopez, the entire Peace and Dignity Journey is a prayer.

“I figured out that sacred sites could be from a church to a lake to a river to a hot spring to an ancient temple [or] ruins. It was really powerful, spiritually, going to those sites and praying on them,” he said.

Lopez ran with people from Canada, the United States, and Central and South America. Along the way, the runners carried sacred staffs wrapped in bundles. The staffs were blessed by a community before they were given to the runners. At each stop, the runners would put down a staff and pick up another from that indigenous community and take it to another location.

The staffs are infused with energy from the prayers and blessings, Lopez said. The prayers embedded in each staff cover a variety of topics, from alcoholism to sexual abuse to protection of water sources. When deciding which staff to leave at a sacred site, the staff chooses the runner, not the other way around, Lopez said.
“When you run with the staff, you’re actually healing the land … spiritually you’re blessing it, you’re cleaning from all the negativity that’s happened in that area,” he said.

Many of the sites Lopez visited are undergoing change. For example, the starting point in Alaska was a sacred mountain where mining was taking place. The mining, Lopez said, would affect the river that the indigenous peoples there depended on for fishing.

“Going on this journey, it opened up my heart…[there were] many things I never realized I would see,” Lopez said.

While visiting the indigenous peoples, Lopez offered the community danza, a traditional form of Aztec dancing, which he has been practicing for four years.
“I would offer the danza, the prayer,” Lopez said. “That’s how we honor certain elements of life. [When] we stopped in the communities we exchanged a song or exchanged danzas. [It was] a cultural exchange.”

While out on the run, Lopez saw the power of prayer. The prayers and sermons for the run taking place came from a diverse group of communities and religions, he said.
“It’s not really about the different types of religions but it’s about the prayer. That was really powerful for me to see,” Lopez said. “This [the Journey] was a big message of hope to the world, that we had to look back into our ancestral values, the values that bring us together, talk about community, where greed is left behind,” he said.

Prior to the run, Lopez took his life for granted, he said. A third reason why he decided to go on the Peace and Dignity Journey was to gain experience that he could not get in school.

“Also, [I went] just to see the different places, to go out and actually experience true realities of people or the land, instead of just getting it from books,” Lopez said. “We tend to read a lot here in school but then the experience is out there.”