The Four Corners Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Prayer Run arrived in Cortez Friday evening.
A group of 15 runners and 30 event supporters gathered at the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church about 7 p.m. to have a meal and were invited to stay the night. A dozen locals were present to support the participants, and a group prayer was given by a Navajo elder.
The four-day prayer run traverses 232 miles through area towns and the Navajo and Ute Mountain Ute reservations. The event began and will end at Montezuma Creek, with involved runners taking shifts throughout each day.
Organizer Martina Maryboy ran 9 miles Friday said it has been going well. She said the number of participants has grown as the group progressed.
“We have had a lot of community support and generosity. Anybody can join in at any time. It has been really heartwarming,” she said.
In Blanding, Utah, a community shelter housed the runners, and the next morning staff, volunteers and children joined the prayer for a few miles.
Passing through Dove Creek, a trailer carrying the portable potties broke, and a Dolores County Sheriff’s deputy helped to repair it.
The event started after a series of heavy snowstorms in the Four Corners. The weather has been sunny, if a bit chilly, runners said.
Michael Vernon Shortey, a Navajo, participates in prayer runs often to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous people and social justice issues.
His uncle Lance Dennison has been missing for two weeks in the Beshbitoh Valley area of the Navajo Reservation. A police investigation is underway, and foul play is suspected.
“It really hits home. He has been with my prayers,” said Shortey, who ran about 10 miles. “We’re here because we’re not afraid to speak out about struggles and loss, we’re not afraid to raise our voices over injustice,”
He said connecting with people about the cause builds strength and solidarity, and “uplifts the spirit.”
Event organizer Chiara Amoroso, of Native Search Solutions, said the entourage of runners and vehicles with signs about the missing has attracted attention along the way. She hands out flyers with information about the issues, and talks with onlookers.
“We’ve seen interest, people are donating, they come up and wonder what we are about,” she said.
Runners Pasha and Cecil Nierenhusen came out from Winterland, California, to participate.
“There are so many people missing and no answers, it is so pertinent to raise awareness,” Pascha said. “Coming together in unity hopefully opens doors for action to solve these issues. It has opened my eyes.”
The couple regularly participates in prayer runs, which they said are becoming more popular across the country to inform the public about social issues, injustice and human suffering.
“It is a humbling experience and also a freeing experience to take action to be out running in nature and meeting new people. That’s what motivates us.”
Kedesha Etsitty joined the group Friday with her children, including daughter Mauloa Benally, age 7, who ran 3 miles.
“I wanted them to participate because it is a message that not only adults go missing, but little children do too,” Etsitty said.
The prayer run continues Saturday, with a refreshment stop in Towoac about 9 a.m. at the Tepee Village next to the casino.
There will be a blessing by Tribal Elder Terry Knight Sr. Tribal council representatives and officials also will speak.
The runners will continue Saturday to Beclabito. Sunday, runners will continue on to Montezuma Creek and have a feast at St. Christopher’s Mission. There will be presentation about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people and an open mic for people to share their stories.