When activist and professional runner Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel ran the 2019 Boston Marathon, she did so with a red handprint splashed across her mouth and face, and the hashtag #mmiw, for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, emblazoned on her legs.
Though usually not one to seek attention, Daniel was steeled by the fact that she planned to run every one of the famously grueling race’s 26 miles in honor of and to call attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“When I made that decision, I knew people were probably going to stare at me (and) be thinking things or talking about ‘Why does she have red paint on her face or body?’” Daniel, a member of the Kul Wicasa Oyate band of the Sioux tribe, told GO! last week.
The women she ran for included Britney Tiger, a cousin of hers who was murdered in Oklahoma. Two of the women she said prayers for as she ran were missing and later found alive — she stresses that was not due to her effort. The rest, tragically were not.
“I’m someone who doesn’t like to stick out or call attention to myself. I like being behind the scenes and invisible, almost,” Daniel said. “So I knew that this was going to be a challenge for me, but at the end of the day, getting to that start line, it just didn’t matter. It meant so much more to be able to run with them, and run for them, and for their family and for our community.”
In addition to the attention to the light Daniel shined on the plight of women, it caught the attention of a museum curator 3,000 miles away in Bend: “Carrying Messages: Native Runners, Ancestral Homelands and Awakening,” which opens Saturday in the Collins Gallery, in the lobby area of the High Desert Museum in Bend.
According to press materials from the museum, running offers a means of healing and opportunity for the four runners featured in the show, which shares their personal stories alongside large photos of each of them traversing the landscape on foot.
“A few years ago, I learned about some runs that were organized by Native runners to honor and protect important places, like Bears Ears (National Monument),” said Laura Ferguson, curator of Western history at the High Desert Museum. “And then I saw the coverage of Jordan Daniel’s 2019 Boston Marathon. … It made me want to learn more about the meanings that running holds for Native runners and the ways that they are drawing on running as a powerful tool for advocacy, and then I was really excited to be able to share this with our visitors.”
Running has long been woven into the fabric of Indigenous life, Ferguson said, playing roles in ceremonies and as a way of relaying messages among tribes in the West.
Another runner highlighted in the show is Lydia Jennings, a soil scientist from Arizona of Wixárika and Yoeme descent, whose famous high school running coach, Edison Eskeets, was a Diné (Navajo) tribe member.
“That was a really transformational experience for her to really see and understand the ceremony of running, as opposed to simply focusing on tempo and speed,” Ferguson said. “In her work today, she’s really thinking about soil health and climate change, and underscoring how important it is that our solutions to climate change be Indigenous-led.”
Running is a longstanding tradition in Daniel’s family in South Dakota. A fourth-generation runner, she went on her first run at age 10 with her grandfather.
“It’s something that I’ve been continuing to do for the last 23, almost 24 years of my life,” Daniel said. Her great-grandfather had been a long-distance runner, and her grandfather was an accomplished middle-distance runner. Her mom was running from a young age, too.
“He started training her from a very young age,” Daniel said of her grandfather, a running coach. “She was a sprinter, and then she was training for the ‘88 Olympic trials, and then I came and kind of sadly took that dream away from her.”
Likewise, her grandfather’s own Olympic dreams were thwarted by a car accident and other family events, she said.
Running from a young age helped Daniel get through a major move away from South Dakota and the familiarity, traditions and ceremonies of home when she was 9, she said.
“For me, it’s been an evolution, a transformation of running as this cool family club that I got to be part of, and really being part of this family tradition and this Indigenous history of running, which is so integral to so many of our communities,” Daniel said. “Being a Native youth athlete, especially when I moved … to the state of Maine, which is very white, very not-diverse, and being the only student-athlete of color a lot of the time just really challenged me in a lot of ways, so it really became running as a way to represent and to hopefully inspire my nephews and nieces from back home in South Dakota.”
Now, Daniel is an Olympic hopeful herself, with an aim of running in the Olympic trials for the marathon.
“It’s been my dream ever since I was little, to get someone from our family to actually make it to the Olympic trials and to be able to compete and represent our family and community,” she said.