2008 Sacred Sites Journey heals as participants run

By Rick Whaley
Special to News From Indian Country

Tradition Keepers Drum and Sacred Sites Run led off the Immigrant Rights Rally on the May Day march in Milwaukee 2008. Photo credit, Voces de la Frontera

“There are those events in our lives of such significance that they forever change our journey. Such an event occurred at the time of my sister’s funeral,” recounted Kathy Lichterman of Milwaukee.

When Kathy joined the Sacred Sites Run 2007, she had just recovered the story of her Ojibwe parents, lost to her when she was one year old because of forced adoptions in that family in the 1950s. She began to track down her long-lost siblings, but that one sister, Kathleen Binesiikwe Munnell-Headbird, cultural resources specialist at Leech Lake, died before they could get to know each other.

When Kathy L. (she had two sisters renamed Kathy or Kathleen) spoke to her brother-in-law at Kathleen’s funeral and told him about the Mississippi Valley Sacred Sites Run 2007, he told her to read the book, Native Americans and Archeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground. “In this book, my sister co-authored a chapter in which she presented her views as an Anishinabe woman involved in an archaeology program on her reservation,” Lichterman continued. “Until this moment, I had no idea that my sister had been involved in work that I was just beginning to learn about.”

Kathy took up the mission of the Sacred Sites Run to honor and protect the ancient ceremonial and burial places of Indigenous peoples. For her this was also a way of honoring her sister’s work and honoring the ancestors whose history she was beginning to recover.

The Sacred Sites Run 2006-2010 empowers Indian runners to learn about their cultural heritage, not only the ancient sites, but also the importance of healthy, traditional foods and the spirituality of running. The Sacred Sites Run (SSR) is also part of a national effort to win from Congress a “cause of action” which allows Indian people the right to access and do ceremonies at these ancient sacred places, a religious freedom right that other denominations have for their churches and services. In 2006 the Run focused on Mississippian-culture ceremonial mounds in the U.S. southeast and ended with a religious ceremony at Indian Summer Festival in Milwaukee.

The 2007 Mississippi Valley SSR revisited Cahokia and related mound sites in Illinois and Wisconsin, the Toltec Mounds near Little Rock for Earth Day, and honored effigy mound sites in the Upper Mississippi Valley.
Kathy Lichterman (right) with Carol DeVerney (middle) at the Fond du Lac’s Mash Ka Wisen Powwow, 2007.
Photo by Ammon Bailey

As part of the 2007 Run, Kathy Lichterman was able to revisit the Fond du Lac Reservation in northern Minnesota with an assignment to help coordinate a run from the Fond du Lac Reservation to Spirit Mountain.

“I called my nephew, Francis DeVerney of Cloquet, Minnesota, … [and] without hesitation, Francis accepted this project into his busy work schedule and family life,” Kathy recalls. “His willingness to be involved, to facilitate the education of his community about the protecting/preserving of sacred places was not only supportive of the project but sent a personal message of support to me… It was quite thrilling to hear the thunder of the footsteps as the runners entered the Mash Ka Wisen Powwow.”

By the time of the 2008 Great Plains/Great Prairie Run, Kathy had taken on a leadership role in SSR, including a winter anti-racism workshop in Milwaukee. Along with organizer Ben Yahola (Muskoke), Kathy and SSR joined in support of the Oceti Sakowin – the 7 Council Fires of the Dakota – in protesting Minnesota’s state sesquicentennial. On Friday, May 9, the Mdwankanton Mendota Dakota and their allies marched along the Mendota Bridge walkways for a truth telling protest.

That Saturday, May 10, Dakota and supporters rallied as the settlers’ re-enactment wagon train rolled into Fort Snelling. Dr. Chris Cavender, his daughter Dr. Angela Cavender, and other family members were arrested in hopes of testing Dakota claim to the sacred springs at the site of the old fort. The following day, Sacred Sites Runners joined the Spears brothers (Red Lake) and the First Nations United runners, Dakota runners, and the Ho-Chunk Native Cruzers for a “Tipi Wakan Walk, Run and Rally” from Mounds Park to the Capitol Building in St. Paul.

Ben Yahola, initiator the Sacred Sites Runs, said, “There is a need for truth telling [on the genocide of the Dakota] before reconciliation can take place… At the same time, we need to reach out to other peoples. We are all victims of global warming and other threats to the earth’s biosphere. If you think you have freedom, try not paying taxes. They’ll come for your land, too.”

“Maka Cokaya” bundle at Crow Creek memorial, June 2008.
At the sunrise ceremony before leaving for Crow Creek, Ben Yahola and others gathered a small bundle of soil from the bluffs overlooking Pike Island at Mendota, the sacred site of “Maka Cokaya” (Dakota “center of the universe”). He carried this symbolic sacred earth bundle to Crow Creek “for those that longed for their homeland and to remind the people there that ‘Maka Cokaya’ is their cultural resource.” Ben, Kathy, Ammon Bailey, and Alan Anderson (Ojibwe) of SSR worked with Faith Bad Moccasin (Crow Creek) to lead the Crow Creek Run in late May, honoring mounds along the Missouri River near Ft. Thompson, South Dakota, then on to the sacred place at Pipestone, Minnesota.

Kathy, the mother of two grown daughters, was proud to be out there walking with the supporters of the runners on the prairie and with the runs and protests in the city. “The Sacred Sites Run welcomes all levels of participation from marathon runner to weekend walker to the four legged creatures. This year we attracted the animal spirits. A dog joined us in Crow Creek. He ran with each of the runners and seemed to assume a protective role on the highway. We named him Gichi Manido Ma’iingaan, Great Wolf Spirit.”

Koshkonong Mounds sign, Lake Koshkonong, Wisconsin.
Photo by Ben Yahola

For the Summer Solstice and the 2008 National Native Day of Prayer for Sacred Places, the Sacred Sites Run returned to Aztalan State Park for a morning circle, and then Jim Stevens (Seneca), David Yahola (Ben’s son), Jordan Keokee (Ojibwe), brothers Gabriel and Nigel Peltier (Odawa) led the run to Koshkonong Mounds during late June.

The next day, allies from Milwaukee’s Mexican community came to support the SSR at a Mitchell Park gathering, returning the favor SSR had lent to their May Day march for immigrant rights. Dr. Narciso Aleman, who walked with SSR the day before, said that his people should to be proud of their Indigenous roots: “The designation as ‘Mexican’ is derived from the Nahuatl term, ‘Meshica.’ We are one of the 32 nations that governed Anahuac at the time of the arrival of the Hispanic Hernan Cortes in 1519.”

Milwaukee’s Voces de la Frontera told harrowing stories of Mexican American family’s ripped apart, even on this day, by the U.S. government’s anti-immigrant policies. “The dismantling of families by forced deportations today is similar to the Indian adoptions of the 1950s,” Ms. Lichterman said. Besides the emotional and cultural tragedy, “it doesn’t even make sense from an economic point of view to orphan children.”

The Sacred Sites Run will again end at Indian Summer Festival in Milwaukee, September 5-7, 2008. Please join us there Saturday and Sunday at our SSR literature table and Sunday Sept. 7 at ISF morning’s religious service, honoring sacred sites and Native harvests. For more information, contact Ben Yahola at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (414) 383-7072.

On the Net: Voces de la Frontera: www.vdlf.org

Indian Summer Festival: www.indiansummer.org

SSR on the road from Aztalan State Park to Koshkonong Mounds in Wisconsin, June 20, 2008.

La Regeneracion

By Narciso L. Alemán
Special to News From Indian Country

Friday morning, 20th June in Aztalan Park, a spiritual warrior initiated the march with the tribes staff from one sacred site to the other. Sacred sites are places that are spiritual or where the remains of ancients have been buried. Ben Yahola is a warrior of the Alabama Quarsate.

The ceremony began ironically. The irony was that Ben Yahola, an organizer of the People of Medicine, of Muskogee Creek Nation, was preparing for the spiritual ceremony and an official from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources… demanded payment of the fee for entering the park and a fine for having passed the admission’s [box].

An effort was made to explain to the official that what was being prepared was a spiritual ceremony and that the people were observing their spiritual practices, but it did not make any difference to the official. He demanded and received the fee and the fine. The irony was that no Catholic, Protestant, Jew or Muslim is required to pay a fee for entering their sites of worship, but the Indigenous, the original residents of these lands, are charged a fee to exercise and practice their spiritual beliefs.

Despite the ironic beginning, during the ceremony a deer and her doe approached the ceremony to hear the prayers to the skies, the four winds, to all the universe and then they ran into the woods. Thunder and lightning punctuated the ceremony. At the beginning of the march there was a light rain to bless the march. Afterwards the skies cleared and the march continued. At the end of the march [at Koshkonong Mounds], there was a ceremony to appreciate the beauty of the day and the opportunity to celebrate the blessings we enjoy.

For us, Mexicans, the observance and participation in spiritual ceremonies is to complete a circle. The designation as “Mexican” is derived from the Nahuatl term, “Meshica.” We are one of the 32 nations that governed Anahuac at the time of the arrival of the Hispanic Hernan Cortes (1519). Since then, the Roman Catholic Hierarchy and the usurper invaders have sought to erase our Indigenous origin.

It is the same politics that have always served them: If the origin of a people can be torn and erased, those people will be subject to what the dominant group tells them, dictates to them, and concedes to them. They will not be a free people, but a people subject to what the governors tell them, give them and concede to them. That is, chato, what we have always resisted and rejected.

The government, society and the educational system have sought the means to shame us about our origin so that we may deny it. In the majority of cases, they have accomplished their goal and many of us are ashamed of our Indigenous origin. After more than 500 years of oppression, [they] have not been able to erase our heritage.

Think for a moment when there are celebrations and there are dancers, they dance to the sun, the moon, the earth, all that lives, to the animals, and to us as humans. That is the process to recognize, honor, and celebrate our link to all that is natural, to all the universe. We need to recognize and appreciate that throughout generations, the dancers have preserved the natural ceremonies and they remind [us] subliminally [of] our genetic link.

It is important to recognize, accept and celebrate who we are and what we represent in this universe so that our children will know where they came from.