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Fittingly, running is the theme of a movie night that will kick off a series of free events during Native American Heritage Month.

Two films that celebrate running as an act of spirituality, activism and healthy living in Native American communities are open to the public at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Flagstaff High School Auditorium.

Carrie Dallas is program coordinator for the Lasting Indigenous Family Enrichment (L.I.F.E.) Program at Native Americans for Community Action (NACA). She says that Tuesday night is an opportunity to see the wide-ranging roles that running has traditionally played while also encouraging people to see it as a means toward better wellness today.

“Running is an activity that kept us fit,” Dallas said. “We used it in ceremony and prayers, as messengers, for hunting. It’s always been a part of native culture.”

“3100: Run and Become” screened in Flagstaff just over a year ago. The film follows several runners as they participate in a New York City race around a half-mile loop to cover 3,100 miles. Documentary filmmaker Sanjay Rawal told High Country Running coordinating editor Julie Hammonds last year in a movie review that while the race is about people overcoming preconceived limitations, he had to find a way to provide the spiritual context — the “why” that helps explain people’s deeper motives for running such an odd race.

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“I always thought there was a film to be made from it,” Rawal said. “But visually, I thought one couldn’t show this topic of spiritual running by just filming people running around the block. You had to connect it to people in cultures that have been running for thousands of years.” One of those people is Shaun Martin, a Navajo ultrarunner and race director of the Canyon de Chelly Ultra. The film weaves together images from that ultra with those from a personal run Shaun did to honor his father, Allen.

“Sacred Strides” is a 12-minute short directed by Forest Woodward, Anna Callaghan and Marie Sullivan. The film follows runners from the Hopi, Navajo, Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes who ran relay-style in spring 2018 for community healing and to show support for Bears Ears National Monument after the Trump administration slashed the area protected with that designation. According to the filmmakers, that decision was a blow to public lands but also to the sacred history of those tribes who consider Bears Ears in southeastern Utah an ancestral home.

Dallas said her choice of a speaker to tie together the event’s themes was easy. “I was looking for somebody to inspire the spirit,” she said. She chose Dustin Martin, a Navajo who is executive director of Wings of America. Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the organization connects Native American youth with their legacy of running. Martin graduated summa cum laude and ran at Columbia University.

The event is funded by a Centers for Disease Control grant called Tribal Practices for Wellness in Indian Country.

“I want people to walk out of there motivated to move,” Dallas said. “Running, walking, exercising will help them in their lives against diabetes, heart disease and overcoming obesity.”

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Myles Schrag is co-editor of “To Imogene, a Flagstaff Love Letter” and former coordinating editor of High Country Running.

Current coordinating editor Julie Hammonds (runner@juliehammonds.com) invites columns from all northern Arizona runners.

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