The Sacred Run


Organized by Native American Indian leader, Dennis Banks, The Sacred Run event, has taken place annually in various countries since 1978. It began as an effort to strengthen Native culture and has grown into an international annual event. Indigenous people from Canada, the United States and Japan, joined by individuals from 14 countries, traveled 4,000 km along the Sea of Japan on a spiritual run. The purpose of The Sacred Run is to promote peace, to encourage respect for the earth and all life, and to share the rich cultural diversity of the human race. The runners carried the simple message, that “All Life is Sacred”.

Japan was chosen as the location of the 17th annual Sacred Run because the journey ended in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of those cities. The runners and other participants celebrated the diversity of their cultures through dance, music and traditional ceremonies with the local people along the route. In turn, the Japanese and Ainu natives (indigenous people of Japan) shared their cultures, their struggles and their hopes for a better world. Through the intensity and hardships of running 4,000 km in 50 days, the runners experienced an enduring spiritual commonality linking the different people. The participants, from diverse backgrounds, and ranging in age, from 2 to 72, were motivated by a common goal – a desire to live in a more humane world. Although the event took place in 1995, the film is not specifically about that year’s run but rather about the timeless and eternally precious message of the event and the film, that “All Life is Sacred”.

My film crew and I joined The Sacred Run as full participants, for the entire six weeks of the event to produce an 52 minute lyrical 16mm documentary film. “The Sacred Run” movie aims to reveal the essence of the run and its message of peace, as it explores the importance of developing a spiritual relationship with the earth and all its inhabitants.

As holistic spirituality is an integral part of indigenous culture, this film will show indigenous peoples as keepers of profound spiritual knowledge, which can be shared with individuals searching for their own spiritual identity. The film hopes to provide a positive role model for affirmative action for world peace and environmental awareness, as well as give inspirational messages for individuals or groups who feel alone in their struggle for greater balance; spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. This documentary aims to call upon all humanity to embrace cultural and individual differences and to take responsibility as a global family, for the environment in which we exist.

Although some characters are more featured than others in the film, I intentionally did not closely follow one specific person’s journey. For me this approach is symbolic, in that each person’s unique contribution is a significant component of the whole and that together they make the collective consciousness. By hearing the personal views, efforts, dreams and experiences of the individuals, including myself, who participated in the run, we are shown the multifaceted expression of a large group taking positive action towards finding balance in this world.

With the film, “The Sacred Run”, my intention continues to be about reminding people of all ages, what indigenous people have known for thousands of years; to listen to their inner spirits and of the vision that all life is interconnected. By hearing the indigenous peoples’ ancient wisdom that permeates the film, perhaps we will remember the importance of taking care of our Mother Earth and each other instead of destroying her and ourselves, as we have been doing at an alarming rate. Although the problems we face in the present and beyond are complex, this film aims to offer a celebration of the human spirit and a legacy of hope, to people of all ages and future generations; a vision of a better world to carry into the new Millennium.


During the late 1950′s and throughout the 60′s, a group of Native Americans traveled the many Indian Reservations explaining the prophecies of native peoples and urging the youth to return to the ancestral ways of our people. This group called themselves the “Unity Caravan”. Members were often elders of their nations, requiring interpreters who knew both their native language and English.

At every place they stopped, they made camp, set up tepees, hauled their own water and cooked their food from campfires. The held council daily, opening with prayers and ending the day in ceremony. Each session concentrated on a specific teaching: the sacredness of Water, the relationship between Humans and Mother Earth, Plant life, the Four-Leggeds, the Winged Ones, Medicinal herbs and roots, the meaning of Life and the need to continue the traditions of our people. Every phase of our life was explained. Responsibilities of the man, the woman and the instructions given to us by the Great Spirit were told over and over again.

The gatherings attracted hundreds as the years went by and native people began to see the importance of their work. However, the economics of the times in the late 60′s burdened the group who could no longer support the finances needed to carry on summer after summer.

In 1967, the last “Unity Caravan” was held. Fortunately, what they taught began to take root and a renaissance of our people commenced. The teachings of this group are still found in many rural and remote areas of this land today.

The work of those individuals continued despite the hard times and nine years would pass before many of the same group would come together in Vancouver, British Columbia. This gathering was and is known today as the Elder’s circle.

At the first gathering of the Elder’s Circle in 1976, a statement was issued concerning the unique balance that exists between Humankind and our Mother the Earth, and that this balance was in grave danger. The statement called upon traditional people in the Four Directions to strengthen the healing ceremonies and asked people to heed the warnings of Mother Earth. The elder’s Circle asked that this Message be taken to all native villages and communities. It is this Message that is the foundation of the revival of spiritual running that began in 1977 and continues to this day.

Down through the ages messages have been sent to distant villages by way of runners. In Roman times they were called “messengers”, “court runners’ or “crown couriers”. Her in the western hemisphere, each tribal nation and its runners and messages were delivered in a similar manner as their European counterparts with one great exception: that ceremony was attached to the runner’s duties.

Before a runner left on his mission, he received “medicine” in the form of a tobacco pouch which was put around his neck with prayers offered by the village medicine man to ensure success. A mixture of ground meat and dried berries was prepared for the long trip and often the runner would participate in a sweat ceremony prior to departure.

Runners were often chose by the clans and would be presented to the chiefs. They were called “clan or nation runners”-the finest young men and the pride of tribal nations from the Inuit of the North to the Native people of the southernmost tip of South America. Such runners needed to know the languages of distant tribes, understand traditional ways and possess a knowledge of survival skills.

To be selected was an honor and families would hold feasts and give away prized beaver coats, quilled tobacco bags and buffalo hides in respect of their family member being chosen to run. Many villages were close but others were days apart. The mixture of meat and berries was put in a pouch for long routes and it contained the nutrition that long distance runners of today still use.

In 1978, this tradition of running from village to village with a message was revived. That first Run was from Davis, California to Los Angeles, a distance of 500 miles. We carried with us the message that was issued in Vancouver. Since that time we have conducted annual ” spiritual runs” in California, Minnesota, South Dakota and Arizona.
In 1984, we started our first continental cross country run from New York City to Los Angeles, a distance of 3,600 miles.

We repeated the effort in 1988, then flew to Japan and ran the length of the Islands ending on the northernmost island of Hokkaido. In 1990, we ran across Europe going through thirteen countries covering a total of 7,130 miles. The European Run took 88 days beginning in London and ending in Moscow. In 1991 Sacred Run ran 53 days from Vancouver, British Columbia to Montreal, Quebec (Kahnawake on the Mohawk Nation), with a team of Penobscot runners running from Maine to Montreal providing the eastern link for a total of 5,000 miles.

In each village, town, city, and country that we traveled and stopped, the Message was the same: that all life is sacred. It is this spiritual belief that lies at the foundation of each Run, and is the cause of why so many runners join us.

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle



Purchase DVD copy of The Sacred Run

The Sacred Run poster