After the race I saw this picture of me. It caused a flood of emotion.
There I was wrapped in my Cherokee blanket at the start...feeling cloaked in the love of my family, friends, colleagues, patients, and I suddenly remembered my ancestors who walked the trail. I wondered what they would think of my journey. Maybe I thought of them more because this year my race was marked by significant pain. Maybe I thought of them more because of the conversations my husband and I have had about the strength of our ancestors and our history. Maybe it's because I spend nearly 12 hours on the drive to Leadville teaching my patient pacer about tribal history from pre colonial through today's struggles. What can I say...it was a long car ride!
My Cherokee Ancestors and distinctly my great great great grandmother walked the trail of tears as a child. (I may have the number of greats wrong). As I stood at the start I thought about my excitement about my trail run and then was struck by the sufferage of theirs. They walked a very different trail. Not one with aid stations, cheers, and warm soup awaiting them every 10 miles. No finishers medal. No pacers and crew to encourage them and coax them to finish. Nothing awaited them at the finish. The finishers were the ones who survived. Over 4000 Cherokees died on that trail. Our milestones were marked by aid. Their milestones were marked by the losses. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, infants and elderly who died or were left at this point or that.
Yet the Cherokee not only survived, they adapted and prospered. They developed their own government and judicial system. They build male AND female seminaries... before Oklahoma ever became a state in the 1850s. Before educating women was acceptable. The civil war devastated their educational system, yet they re-opened the schools. The female seminary burned to the ground and within 2 years it was rebuilt and re opened. They overcame without hesitation and without fear.
When Oklahoma neared statehood the US federal government set about the dismantling of the Cherokee Nation's governmental and civic institutions. the Cherokee government and their educational system was systematically stripped down. The seminaries closed. The government was dissolved in 1906. The US government designated "Chiefs", usually just long enough to get them to sign treaties. The Cherokee regrouped, fought, and won the battle to reestablish their government, judicial, and educational systems and again they prospered.
I remembered this as I ran. We must teach our people how to adapt and prosper again. As a medical professional, as I sit here in Anchorage with representatives from other tribes and cultures trying to figure out how to help our people "adapt and prosper" what they have already survived, it is all coming together in my brain. The series of events..the race, which for me became about surviving, adapting, and prospering (finishing), the immediate flight to Alaska to work with those who have survived, and need help learning how to adapt and prosper, and tonight, filtering through pictures, seeing my cloak representing the strength and warmth of my ancestors and remembering what they overcame I am dumbfounded. This Leadville race became nothing about actual running or racing and everything about humanity.