On Monday, runners will gather at the starting line in Hopkinton to run the Boston Marathon. This year, the marathon is held on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It’s a day to celebrate the rich traditions, diverse cultures, and resilience of Indigenous communities across our country.
I am honored to join those runners. My feet will pound the ancestral homelands of the Massachusett, the Mashpee Wampanoag, and the Pawtucket people and will follow in the footsteps of Indigenous runners who have participated in this race over its 125-year history.
In fact, there have been several Indigenous winners. Tom Longboat of the First Nations Onondaga won the Boston Marathon in 1907. Ellison “Tarzan” Brown of the Narragansett won the marathon in 1936 and again in 1939. Patti Dillon of the Mi’Kmaw people helped to pave the way for women runners who placed second in the Boston Marathon in 1979, 1980, and 1981. I am honored to have met her during my visit here.
These runners have a place in history. They are inspirations to all runners, but particularly to Indigenous runners.
I will not be on the winner’s podium, but I am running my own race. We all have our paths that bring us to the starting line. I started running about 20 years ago. Along the way to running my first marathon, I began to think deeply about the story of my people who have used running not only to get places but to preserve their traditions and culture.
In the days of my ancestors, runners ran from house to house and village to village to spread news. In the high desert, runners kept watch for spring floods, alerting villagers and sprinting to the fields to capture water for that year’s crops. Native American runners saved lives during the tragedies of colonization. Now, traditional foot races in our Pueblo villages honor those who were strong and fast. I run because my ancestors gave me this ability.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also a day when we remember the sacrifices of our ancestors and their survival during the dark eras of colonization and assimilation — eras in which Native Americans suffered atrocities that manifest themselves in health disparities, lack of basic infrastructure, the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples’ crisis, and so much more.
On this special day, I will run for missing and murdered Indigenous peoples and their families, the victims of Indian boarding schools, and the promise that our voices are being heard and will have a part in an equitable and just future in this new era.
I will run for Tom Longboat, Tarzan Brown, and Patti Dillon because they paved a path for me. It’s a path that has led me to serve in the Biden-Harris administration as the first Native American cabinet secretary in US history. This administration made a commitment to honor our country’s promises to Indigenous communities. It’s part of our Build Back Better Agenda to embed equity and inclusion into everything that we do. Across the administration, we are ensuring that tribal governments, organizations, and advocates are consulted in policies that impact all of Indian Country.
At the Interior Department, we contribute to the Biden administration’s work to build back better through our work centering Indigenous traditional knowledge in our climate policies; through our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples unit and implementation of the Not Invisible Act; through our Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to help communities heal from longstanding intergenerational trauma; and by restoring tribal homelands.
I’m proud to be part of an administration that recognizes and trusts that my life experiences can inform policy-making in an effort to correct the mistakes of the past and help to create a future our ancestors would be proud of.
Stay safe, runners, and happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Boston.
Deb Haaland is US secretary of the Interior Department.