In honor of Indigenous People’s Day Monday, Oct. 10, Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation is holding its Ojibwe Neyio Spiritual Run, a biking, canoeing and running event that both the tribal community and the general public are invited to participate in to bring awareness to mental health, cancer awareness, suicide prevention and cultural awareness.
The Spiritual Run will start at 8 a.m. at Crier Hill near the agency, said co-organizer Wilfred “Huck” Sunchild, with the course extending from the starting point around to East Fork, basically following the perimeter of the reservation.
It’s a 55-mile course in total, Sunchild said, but participants will be able to take smaller sections that suit them. The first 100 participants to sign up at the event will get a T-shirt, Sunchild said.
Rocky Boy has many organizations, programs and individuals that help youth on the reservation with mental health, physical health, education, culture and more, but they don’t always work effectively in coordination with each other, he added. Several of them, though, have come together to help with this event, which is being held a little more than two years after COVID-19 shut down most of the gatherings and celebrations normally held.
Like other tribes, he said, the Chippewa Cree thrive on their togetherness and these opportunities to get together to participate in cultural activities so the last two years hit the reservation community hard, especially the youth who are showing signs of mental health strains, including increased suicide numbers.
Another tragedy from the pandemic, Sunchild said, is the increase in deaths among tribal elders due to the disease. These losses are particularly hard in Native communities, he added, because elders aren’t only elderly family and friends, they are also keepers of traditions, history and language, and any knowledge that they haven’t had time to pass on to the next generation is lost with their death.
“My generation, I feel, really dropped the ball,” he said, about language in particular.
When he was a child, he said, many elders, like his grandfather, Cree leader Little Bear, still spoke Chippewa or Cree despite often brutal attempts to assimilate them into white, European-based culture. These elders would speak fluently to the younger generations and many of them learned to understand the language, but not necessarily enough to become fluent speakers.
Now, he said, most of the fluent speakers of both languages have died, leaving him and others to step into the roll of elders.
Sunchild is part of the Living Language Grant Program that, he said, is working to provide language immersion education to K-12 students. To help keep their Native languages alive and used as a touchstone to help the tribe heal from longterm issues that largely stem from generational trauma.
“If we lose our language,” he said, “then we really will be assimilated.”
For more information on the Ojibwe Neyio Spiritual Run, contact Sunchild or Mike Geboe at 406-395-5215.