Running for human rights

With pride in their eyes and determination in each step, First Nation runners are taking a message to President Obama. On Sept. 3 the second Run for Human Rights was launched in Winnipeg. Ceremonies and speeches took place at the Legislative Building with First Nation elders, long distance runners from Buffalo Point, Roseau River, Sagkeeng and other treaty and Dakota First Nations, and organizer Terry Nelson. Runners will leg it all the way to Washington, D.C.. As said in a statement to media, their mandate is to “raise awareness about indigenous issues in Canada and to gather support from the American government and its people for the treaty rights of First Nations to royalties from resources and compensation for transportation of resources across First Nation lands.”

The first Run for Human Rights took place 20 years ago and focused on garnering support for the development of the Native American gaming industry. This was successful when you consider how much the Native American gaming industry has grown over the last 20 years. This second Run for Human Rights is focused on the oil industry and health care. Much of the natural resource extraction in Canada takes place on First Nations’ land and yet it is the Canadian government and private industry that profits most from its sale. In northern Manitoba alone, $3 billion a year is made from the sale of natural resources, little of which is seen by First Nations. First Nations in Canada are interested in negotiating directly with the American government when it comes to resource extraction on and across their lands.

The other pressing issue that this run highlights is the substandard health care available in First Nation communities. According to Chief Terry Nelson’s statement on the Run for Human Rights website, this matter is pertinent to Americans because “the American people are looking for a combination of public and private systems to deliver health care, and some of the answers to their questions about a public health system may be found in the experience of First Nations people.” To symbolize these two key issues, runners are carrying a bottle of tar sands oil and a bottle of water.

As of Sept. 12, the team had reached Duraboo, Wis.. Showing remarkable determination and athletic prowess, the runners are proceeding at a remarkable pace of over 100 miles per day. At this rate, they will arrive in Washington on Oct. 4, when they hope to have a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss their mandate. The meeting is not confirmed, but with all of the media attention that the second Run for Human Rights is getting, President Obama is sure to know about their imminent arrival.