Courtesy of George Funmaker
George Funmaker, Ho-Chunk and Dakota, dedicated his 2016 Los Angeles Marathon run to the protection of Oak Flat and other sacred sites.

Valentine to Oak Flat: Native Runner Dedicates LA Marathon to Sacred Sites

Stephanie Mushrush

On a day that many people reserve to spend with their valentine, George Funmaker arose early to lay down prayers for sacred Oak Flat, Chi’chil Bildagoteel. Funmaker, Ho-Chunk and Dakota, dedicated his 2016 Los Angeles Marathon run as a spiritual one for the protection of Oak Flat and other sacred sites.

Funmaker, a community worker for the Los Angeles American Indian community, has deep-rooted investment in his concern for the protection of Oak Flat.

“My niece is from San Carlos and her family is traditional,” he said. “A lot of my female relatives have participated in the sunrise ceremony and my niece hopes to have hers soon- it’s beautiful that the Apache still have that ceremony. I know that Oak Flat is used for those ceremonies, and I want her to have a place to hold one. It’s important that that ceremony continue.”

Land must be protected and cared for, he said.

“The land is sacred, and that’s a big part of our culture,” Funmaker said. “Like I always say, the land is not separate from us—we are a part of the land, and that is our mother. Our worldview of the Earth is different than that of mainstream or western society. They see the land as something to profit off of, whereas we see the land as our mother, who we need to protect and take care of.”

Funmaker was part of a five-member spiritual run team from the LA urban Native community whose other members also dedicated their 2015 LA Marathon run to the protection of Oak Flat. This year was his first year running the full, 26-mile marathon.

On Marathon Day, members of the LA American Indian Community Council greeted Funmaker at their Mile 17 water station; Funmaker’s wife, Waunshila, and their three children patiently awaited his arrival at the station while excitedly handing out water to runners. Fancy shawl dancer Cheyenne Phoenix (Northern Paiute and Diné) stopped to pose with a Protect Oak Flat poster while she confirmed her solidarity with the spiritual movement. Phoenix was among other dancers and the Hale Drum group who all came to support the community.

Funmaker discussed the struggle to protect and save other sacred sites as inspiring his involvement in the Oak Flat fight. This includes even that of his own tribe, the Ho-Chunk’s fight to save sacred burial mounds, along with Black Hills and Big Mountain.

“Back in the 1990s, my family was active in the Big Mountain struggle; we held sun dance there for fifteen to twenty years to support the Navajo fight against Peabody Coal,” he said.

“I want to support Oak Flat as much as I can,” Funmaker added. “I wanted to join the caravan to D.C., but it was difficult with work and family to travel there. In this small way, I hope to educate people who are not aware of these issues.”

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