Glancing sideways, her arms pulling strongly forward and back in opposite motions to her legs, Dzantik’I Heeni sixth-grader Ellysiem Paine smiled as runners passed her on an Eaglecrest uphill sprint.
“I like joining running but sometimes I am a little slow,” Paine said. “I just try to push myself so I can be faster. Sometimes I am behind and the coaches help me push myself.”
Paine was taking part in last week’s Sealaska Heritage Latseen Running Camp.
Targeting Native middle and high school athletes in Juneau, the camp covered many running principles, focusing on goal-setting, creating training calendars, injury prevention and strength training, but also took the unique approach of tying in the Tlingit core cultural values. Paine is from the Tlingit Eagle clan and Kaagwaantaan moiety.
“We want to connect running to our four core cultural values,” Sealaska Heritage camp assistant Katrina Hotch said. “I feel like if you are a runner it is more than just strengthening minds and body and spirit but also increasing our connection to the land. If you are out there running every day you have your favorite trails and you get to see changes in the environment and the seasons.”
Hotch (Eagle Wolf/ Kaagwaantaan) attended Mt. Edgecumbe High School and graduated from Haines. She wrestled and ran track and field.
“Running is kind of a way you are respecting yourself and your body,” Hotch said. “I think as a runner you will have more empathy for others who are just starting running or you know what it is like to have that struggle so there is more respect for each other. I think the running community always has that kind of sense with each other.”
The four Tlingit cultural values are Haa latseen (strength of body, mind and spirit), Haa aani (connection to the land), Haa shagoon (keeping in mind the past, present and future and those who came before you and those who are coming after you), and Wooch yax (respect for yourself and others).
Hotch, Sealaska assistant Jasmine James (Eagle/Galyáx Kaagwaantaan) and camp coach Jeremy Strong (Raven/Gaanaxteidí) brought their backgrounds as Native athletes into four days of engaging activities.
James played basketball and ran cross-country for Yakutat High School. Strong grew up in Klukwan, graduated from Haines High School and currently coaches track and cross-country at Sitka.
“Growing up in the village in Yakutat, I don’t think I faced as many stereotypes as here in Juneau in the larger population,” James said. “I pretty much participated in everything Yakutat had to offer whether it was Student Body or sports. I think we want to teach engagement in sports and culture with a focus on strength of body, mind and spirit. We are hoping to bring that into running as well. I think that is a good thing to catch them when they are younger before they get busy with being high school students.”
Those ideals were integrated daily throughout the camp, whether through conversations over snacks and meals or when the youths soothed sore muscles in streams.
“We have done icing from the training standpoint,” James said. “But also from the cultural standpoint of strength of body and mind and endurance.”
Strong’s parents smoked, and he remembers how being near that affected his own system when running in middle school.
“I did not like how that felt,” Strong said. “I knew that a healthy lifestyle involved being able to work or participate in endurance events or play basketball. Now it is something that we choose to do as opposed to something we had to do 300 years ago. I feel we may have lost sight of that.”
The camp was more of an introduction to the sport of running for some but also tied in cultural significance for all the participants.
Wednesday was an endurance outing at Sandy Beach, Thursday involved sprints at the Thunder Mountain High School track, Friday was hills at Eaglecrest and Saturday was light work at Sandy Beach and later joining the Only Fools Run At Midnight race.
“Basically we want to prepare them for a whole 5K,” Strong said. “Some of them maybe can’t do the whole thing running but we can give them the strategy to complete it and feel good. We want to give them the opportunity or maybe the idea of what it would mean to run on your own if they really enjoy it. We are targeting this toward Native youths, trying to establish a fitness lifestyle to foster a joy and make it kind of fun, especially when they are trying to discover who they are.”
Montessori student Kira Frommherz, undecided about which middle school she will attend as an eighth-grader, easily handled the up-and-down hill exercises at Eaglecrest.
Frommherz is Navajo Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House clan) born for Bilagáana (German). Her maternal grandpa is T ł ‘ízí lání (Many Goats clan) and her paternal grandpa is Bilagáana (German).
“My mom was a cross-country runner in Arizona when she was younger, and my cousins ran, too, so I guess I kind of feel more connected to it,” Frommherz said. “It brings you outdoors to nature and you get to experience a lot of neat things. In the Navajo culture every morning we would go running toward the sunrise and watch the sunrise. I grew up around that and when I was younger my mom would tell me about it and we would go running. It was fun to do too. Now on sunny days here I like to just go out for a walk and enjoy nature and if my parents go running I will go with running them too.”
Frommherz said that was Haa shagoon.
“I like pushing myself to the end and the feeling of running,” Montessori eighth-grader Alayna Duncan (Raven/L’ukaax.ádi) said. “When I am running, I don’t really hear anything except for my breath and I just keep going until the end. I try not to stop because it just makes me feel good. Sometimes I think about how it tied into my culture. Like if the Tlingit people ran while hunting or for transportation and obviously spent a lot of time in nature. Sometimes I get that feeling. I am proud. Some kids just stay at home and play video games. I just want to tell people that it would probably be good to just go outside, go for a walk, run, or bike ride. You don’t have to be a good runner to get outside. The important thing is getting outside.”
Duncan said that was Haa shagoon and Haa aani.
“I just like running,” Floyd Dryden sixth-grader Aiyana James (Eagle Wolf/Kaagwaantaan) said. “I like how it makes me feel. Today I didn’t write a lot, after all, we did run up the hill five times.”
James said that could be Haa latseen.
Each youth wrote longhand in a daily journal about the day’s activities.
This allowed them to be more introspective, remember their vision of what they accomplished that day, how their body felt when doing that activity and what they liked the most about the day. No cellphones, computers, laptops or tablets were allowed.
“I really like running because it makes me feel fit and I get a lot of exercise,” DZ sixth-grader Trinity Jackson (Eagle/Galyáx Kaagwaantaan) said. “I am not really ever going to quit running. When I run outside, I really like nature, I look at nature that is around me.”
Jackson said that was Haa latseen and Haa aani.
Floyd Dryden seventh-grader Brandon Elton (Eagle Wolf/Kaagwaantaan) became enamored with another perk of the camp, a running watch for keeping track of intervals and target training times.
“I can check alarms on it too,” Elton said. “I can use it for everything, even to wake up in the morning probably. I found out that I like running downhill but not running uphill. I like running because it is fun and it keeps people healthy and I do like to look around when I run.”
Elton said that could be Haa latseen.
“Running isn’t as easy as it seems,” DZ sixth-grader Kalila Arreola (Raven/T’akdeintaan) said. “I like the cold air in my face when I am running and it is hot. It is not something that I would race or compete in but it would be something that I would do just to get outside. I like all the sounds of being outside.”
Arreola said that is Haa aani.
On Friday the Latseen Running Camp youths had just finished their final hill run at Eaglecrest.
Gathering for lunch, they visited, wrote, and discussed topics most youth their age engaged in. They also spoke of running, and how it has helped them think deeper of who they are.
“Sometimes, when I get ready, I am the last one,” Paine said. “It is OK because sometimes I can go in front of someone but at the end of the day I am last and I am ready to go to bed. But I feel happy because I feel like I have accomplished something and my friends have too.”
That sounded a lot like ‘Wooch yax,’ respecting yourself and others.