Participation grew as the 232-mile race passed through area towns
The Four Corners Missing and Murdered Indigenous People prayer walk arrived in Cortez Friday night.
A group of 15 runners and 30 supporters of the event gathered at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church at around 7pm for a meal and were invited to stay the night. A dozen locals were present to support the participants, and a Navajo elder offered a group prayer.
The four-day prayer walk traverses 232 miles through area towns and the Navajo and Ute Mountain Ute Reservations. The event began and ended at Montezuma Creek, with participating runners rotating in shifts each day.
Organizer Martina Maryboy ran 9 miles on Friday and said it went well. She said the number of participants grew as the group progressed.
“We’ve had a lot of support and generosity from the community. Anyone can join at any time. It was really heartwarming,” she said.
In Blanding, Utah, the runners were housed in a community shelter, and the next morning, staff, volunteers, and children joined in prayer for a few miles.
As he drove through Dove Creek, a trailer carrying the portable potties broke down and the Dolores County Sheriff’s Deputy helped fix it.
The event began after a series of heavy snowstorms in the Four Corners. The weather was sunny if a bit chilly, the runners said.
Michael Vernon Shortey, a Navajo, often participates in prayer walks to raise awareness of missing and murdered tribal peoples and social justice issues.
His uncle Lance Dennison has been missing from the Beshbitoh Valley on the Navajo Reservation for two weeks. A police investigation is underway and third-party negligence is suspected.
“It really hits home. He was at my prayers,” said Shortey, who ran about 10 miles. “We are here because we are not afraid to speak out about struggles and losses, we are not afraid to speak out against injustice.”
He said connecting with people about the cause builds strength and solidarity and “elevates the spirit.”
Event organizer Chiara Amoroso of Native Search Solutions said the entourage of runners and vehicles with signs about the missing drew attention along the way. She distributes flyers with information on the topics and talks to onlookers.
“We’ve seen interest, people donate, they come and wonder what we’re about,” she said.
Runners Pasha and Cecil Nierenhusen came from Winterland, California to take part.
“There are so many people missing and there are no answers, it’s so important to raise awareness,” Pascha said. “Hopefully, coming together in unity will open doors for action to address these issues. It opened my eyes.”
The couple regularly take part in prayer walks, which they say are becoming increasingly popular across the country, to educate the public about social issues, injustice and human suffering.
“It’s a humbling experience and also a liberating experience to get active, walk in nature and meet new people. That motivates us.”
Kedesha Etsitty joined the group on Friday with her children including daughter Mauloa Benally, aged 7, who ran 3 miles.
“I wanted them to attend because it’s a message that it’s not just adults who are missing, but little children, too,” Etsitty said.
The prayer run will continue on Saturday, with a refreshment stop in Towoac around 9am at the Tipi Village next to the casino.
Elder Terry Knight Sr. will give a blessing. Representatives of the tribal council and officials will also speak.
The runners will continue to Beclabito on Saturday. On Sunday, runners continue to Montezuma Creek for a feast at St. Christopher’s Mission. There will be a presentation on missing and murdered tribal peoples and an open microphone for people to share their stories.