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Holly White leads a class of about 20 for some morning "Yoga on the Lawn" in downtown Flagstaff Saturday morning. The physically distanced class was a mix of beginners and experienced yogis practicing outside together.

Kate Lyon performs the Wild Thing pose at a Yoga on the Lawn event in downtown Flagstaff Saturday morning. The physically distanced class was a mix of beginners and experienced yogis practicing outside together.

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Run the land: Native women across the U.S. take to the roads and trails
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“Getting lost is the best part of trail running,” Marlinda Bedonie said with a chuckle as we shielded our eyes from the morning sun, searching for our cars.

We spoke on a recent morning while trekking through Tucson Mountain Park on a mostly flat, single-track loop trail. Dipping in and out of washes and brushing against the creosote along the trail, the Tohono O’odham and Navajo mother and I chatted – out of breath – as we shared our running journeys and spoke about our families.

When we came to what we thought was the end of our loop, we realized that although we’d learned a lot about what we share in common, neither of us had any idea where our cars were.

Sometimes, getting lost can be part of finding yourself. In the past four years, Bedonie, 41, has found a passion for running and representing her culture in the sport. She often is featured on the Native Women Running Instagram page highlighting her half-marathons, 10Ks and other races.

Even when she’s jogging Arizona trails solo, she’s far from alone.

In 2018, Verna Volker, who’s Navajo, launched Native Women Running on Instagram. Just more than three years later, her account has more than 19,000 followers and she’s an ambassador for the running shoe company Hoka One.

Volker had started running in 2009 and soon realized something was missing in the community – representation by non-white runners.

“As I got more into running, I realized how little diversity there was,” she said. “I remember going through Instagram and I saw the same type of runner: the cute, white, blonde, fit (woman) who just ran Boston, and I just felt like I couldn’t relate.”

The Boston Marathon may be considered “the holy grail for distance runners” but for Volker, running isn’t about being invited to legacy races, it’s about creating a space for people like her.

Native Women Running restores an Indigenous perspective to running and gives Indigenous women a platform to showcase their cultures and their passion for this ancient celebration of life.

“Native people once had messengers who would run to the next tribe over to carry a message, so it’s kind of ingrained in Native people to run,” she said. “There’s a physical part of (running), but I think that, a lot of times, running was used for prayer runs and still today, it’s a spiritual exercise for Native people.”

Running also represents a spiritual connection to the land for Volker.

“I always encourage my women to run the land wherever they are,” she said. “Some of us are not on the reservation, we’re in the middle of Chicago or Minneapolis, and I just encourage them to run where you are, because running it acknowledges who you are as a people.”

My run with Bedonie reflected that spiritual aspect. During our 4.5-mile trek through Tucson Mountain Park, she stopped occasionally to tell me about her daughters, her experiences running and her connection to the land we were on.

When she was a girl, her aunt used to bring her out early in the mornings to this area to harvest the fruit of the saguaro (or bahidaj, as it’s known by the Tohono O’odham) that stood tall and proud all around us.

On the day we got lost, she looked at ease, comfortable, and said later that she knew her late aunt was there watching over her.

“Running for us is celebrating life,” she said. “We’re not just running for us, we’re running for our people, we’re running for those who can’t, we’re running for prayer.”

Dirk Whitebreast, founder of Native-owned Red Earth Running Co., which organizes runs, sells clothing for Indigenous runners and uses proceeds to benefit Indigenous causes, said he sees hope for Native people in such events as the upcoming virtual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women National Day of Awareness Run, hosted by Native Women Running.

Whitebreast said he and his company, which coordinated the virtual run with Native Women Running, want to let groups like Native Women Running take a more active role in these pushes for awareness and action.

“We decided to take a step back on this issue and let others lead,” he said. “Native Women Running is a really sound platform. Verna does a really good job of bringing attention to the issue.”

And the issue is huge. The Urban Indian Health Institute found that in 2016, the most recent year data are available, 5,712 Indigenous women were reported as missing or murdered in 71 U.S. cities.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, two weeks after being sworn in, created a Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs dedicated to finding justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, highlighting the urgency of this pandemic of violence against Native women, girls and Two Spirit individuals.

Native women are up to 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and murder is the third leading cause of death for Native American people ages 10 to 24.

“I really have a heart for that,” Volker said, “because through this work that I’m doing and these virtual runs, I have had women who messaged me their stories and real incidents where they’ve lost their mother or they have a niece who was never found. What we’re supporting and bringing allies to help us raise awareness around this is really important to me.”

For Bedonie, running in prayer for the protection of her people and family is important as well.

“I have family who I keep in prayer” while running, she said. “And everybody is going through a lot right now during this pandemic. We’re losing our family and we’re losing our friends. We have to say those prayers, we need them to be protected.”

And as she and I ran through washes and jumped over rocks, a silence fell over us, leaving the crunch of our shoes on gravel as the only sound. When the silence ended and she talked about her college-aged daughter’s first half-marathon, it became clear that she was thinking about her family even as we were just a bit lost in the Tucson Mountains. Her children were at the front of her mind, her prayer in motion.

Volker’s experience running is similar.

“I am so thankful that running has found me,” she said. “There are times when I run and I’m just bawling. When I started doing ultra races, I would write family members’ names on my shoe to give me that motivation of running in honor of my brother or my sister or running in honor of my dad.”

She said that her running helps her deal with loss, and it has become a healing ritual for her and countless others.

“In Native Women Running, I have women who run for their husbands or their sons and it’s in that way that we relate so much,” she said. “And I think that’s why people gravitate toward Native Women Running.”

But this commonality alone isn’t what makes Native Women Running so special – it’s also the safe space and community that she has built.

When Benodie was featured in an Instagram ad for Dick’s Sporting Goods, she told Volker that she likely wouldn’t have gotten that chance without Native Women Running.

Volker was humbled and joyful.

“She messaged me and she said, ‘Verna, if it wasn’t for you, I would have never gotten that opportunity,’ and that almost makes me cry because that’s what I do,” Volker said. “It brings me much joy to do that, and I’m thankful for how much these women inspire me, too.”

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County/City officials warn Museum Fire flooding possible this year, plan to 'shore up' defenses

Northern Arizona may have seen a ‘nonsoon’ last year, but as Coconino County and City of Flagstaff officials look at the risk of post-fire flooding off of the Museum Fire burn scar, they aren’t counting on the weather to stay dry again.

This month, county and city staff say they will begin efforts to prepare areas of Flagstaff and other sections within the county for the risk of flooding off of the burn scar.

Since the Museum Fire burned nearly 2,000 acres of the Dry Lake Hills north of Flagstaff in 2019, concrete Jersey barriers and thousands of sandbags have been stacked along streets and around homes throughout the neighborhoods of Shadow Mountain, Grandview and Sunnyside.

That fire burned 52% of the watershed that feeds into the Spruce Avenue Wash, and more than half of that area was burned severely or moderately. That wash feeds directly into the city, passing through the community of Mount Elden Estates before going into city limits.

Flooding in the area could impact as many as 400 homes and 50 businesses.

So far, the last two monsoons have brought little moisture, and any flooding has been minimal.

But that hasn’t put city and county staff at ease, and at a recent joint meeting between the Flagstaff City Council and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, staff told the elected officials that the risk of flooding is still very real.

Joe Loverich with JE Fuller Hydrology said the Museum Fire burn scar has recovered very little in the intervening two years.

With little rain, large amounts of ash-baked dirt still cover much of the area and there are few plants left to hold that dirt in place when the rains do come, Loverich said.

In addition to eliminating ground cover and plants that can help hold soil in place and soak up rain, severe fires are also known to burn hot enough to turn sections of the soil to a glassy substance that increases the amount of runoff generated.

Loverich said their modeling shows that an hourlong storm that brings one or two inches of rain to the now-burned watershed could create a significant flood event. He said they modeled that kind of storm because, while it would be a significant event, it is not altogether uncommon. Between 2011 and 2020, there were four storms that fit those specifications near the current burn scar.

Based on the model, water is largely contained to only the spruce wash and the neighboring streets as it moves through Grandview, but as water enters Sunnyside, it appears to spread out significantly and impact much of the area with as much as a foot of water.

Loverich said based on how little rain the last two monsoons have brought, they believe the model is accurate.

Last year, a small rainstorm occurred over the watershed, creating small flows off the burn scar.

“It turned out to be a fairly small storm, but what it did is it showed that the watershed is very responsive,” Loverich said.

Public Works Director and Deputy County Manager Lucinda Andreani said given the possibility of flooding, the sandbags that have been up around homes for two years will have to remain in place. She said county and city staff will be starting on efforts to shore up and repair those sandbag walls ahead of the monsoon season.

Andreani said those efforts will begin in mid-May.

The thousands of sandbags used by the city and county in the aftermath of the fire are supposed to have a lifespan of about four years. But Andreani said they have seen between 30% and 40% of the bags have degraded and will need to be replaced over the next several months.

“As we know, sandbags degrade over time, particularly with the level of UV sunlight exposure that we've had over the last two years,” Andreani said.

As was done last year before the monsoon season, Andreani said city and county crews will place pallets of bags throughout the Sunnyside neighborhood. From there, property owners and residents will be able to take the bags and use them to rebuild the walls near their homes.

The city is also working out a plan to dispose of the bags that have deteriorated, and the related cinders and sand that are no longer useful, Andreani said.

The Arizona Conservation Core will help build and repair sandbag walls for older or disabled residents who may be unable to do that work on their own.

City spokesperson Jessica Drum said the efforts will also include widespread outreach on the part of both the city and county. One thing they will be emphasizing to residents is the importance of the sandbag walls being comprehensive.

Removal of any one section can compromise the effectiveness of everyone’s work and impact adjacent properties, Drum said. And that could even leave a resident liable to pay for the damage.

Official: FDA to OK vaccine for 12-year-olds
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and older by next week, according to a federal official and a person familiar with the process, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

The announcement is set to come barely a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorized for those ages 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.

The federal official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the FDA's action, said the agency was expected to expand its emergency use authorization for Pfizer's two-dose vaccine by early next week, and perhaps even sooner. The person familiar with the process, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, confirmed the timeline and added that it is expected that the FDA will approve Pfizer’s use by even younger children sometime this fall.

The FDA action will be followed by a meeting of a federal vaccine advisory committee to discuss whether to recommend the shot for 12- to 15-year-olds. Shots could begin after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopts the committee’s recommendation. Those steps could be completed in a matter of days.

The New York Times first reported on the expected timing for the authorization.

Meanwhile, air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.

The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.

In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he will issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.

“I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom," he said.

Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80% and person-to-person distancing was dropped to 3 feet. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin running all night again and capacity restrictions on most businesses will end statewide in mid-May.

And Los Angeles County reported no coronavirus deaths on Sunday and Monday, some of which may be attributable to a lag in reporting but was nevertheless a hopeful sign that could move the county to allow an increase in capacity at events and venues, and indoor-service at bars.

EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.

The once hard-hit Czech Republic, where cases are now declining, announced it will allow people to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces starting next Monday if they keep their distance from others.

But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27% from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Detroit, teams from the city’s health department have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors since the weekend to persuade people to get immunized. And Massachusetts' governor announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.

“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please," President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for all Americans to get both doses.

“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans," the president said.

Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the p andemic is far from over.

As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.

And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan's league title.