Riley Ortega, a 15-year-old member, will be running from Arizona to North Dakota to show support for the #NoDAPL movement. Courtesy photo
Perseverance for Preservation
A LONG Run: Arizona to North Dakota to honor water
By Don Decker
Yavapai-Apache Nation News
yavapai-apache.org It’s about a 15-year-old Hopi boy who has convictions about protecting other living things from the dangers of pollution. Meet Riley Ortega, a Hopi Spider clan long distance runner who has every intention of running from Flagstaff, Arizona to Cannonball, North Dakota, near the Standing Rock Nation. His parents, Lori and Erin Ortega fully support their son’s run to North Dakota. “He will be missing out on the cross country state championship. It’s important to our youth to be part of something bigger than themselves,” said Erin. There is a nation-wide demonstration taking place now as hundreds of "Water Protectors" from various Nations have gathered at the pipeline site in Cannonball, North Dakota where an oil company is laying an interstate pipeline that will carry thousands of gallons of oil across the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, a distance of 1,200 miles. The Lakota people are especially irked by the decision of the City of Bismarck to change the course of the pipeline. The pipeline was relocated south of Bismarck to protect its water supply from contamination if the pipeline was to break. Now, the pipeline will cross the Missouri River north of the Standing Rock Nation leaving their precious water supply vulnerable. Peaceful protestors believe that there is a potential for a catastrophic event that would result in a massive oil break in the pipeline that would poison the rivers downstream as well as destroy wildlife and affect the livelihood of those along the Missouri and Mississippi River. Like other Native Americans now encamped at the Cannonball site in North Dakota, Ortega is determined to state his cause and support his fellow tribesmen who continue to lead a peaceful protest against the construction of a pipeline. Ortega who attends Bradshaw Mountain High School near Prescott, Arizona, is a member of the Hopi Tribe in Northern Arizona and his passion is running long distance. “The reason why I want to do this journey is because I want to be able to run for my people that need my help. I want to run for the water because people can live without oil but people need water to live,” said young Ortega. He has the full support of his parents Lori and Erin Ortega, a police officer and a social worker who have three other children. Erin said (Riley) Ortega “was the idea guy” behind the North Dakota run. Lori said that young Ortega’s uncle, Dennis "Danny" Poolheco, a Hopi, Sun Forehead clan, who was a long-distance runner, passed away two years ago due to being the victim in a drunk driving accident in Phoenix. Young Ortega wants to honor his uncle with the run to North Dakota. Danny’s son, Steven will be among the runners showing both Riley and the cause support.
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Young Ortega will begin his run from Flagstaff, Arizona the morning of October 28 with an early morning-prayer ceremony. Young Ortega is counting on the support of other runners and has received several responses from runners from the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Zuni Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation and others. Most notably, the Oceti Sakowin Youth and Allies Group will be joining Ortega. The Oceti Sakowin Youth ran from Standing Rock to Washington DC this summer to deliver a petition against the pipeline. Their experience and energy will be a vital asset to Ortega’s run. The team of runners will make their journey 1,400 miles to the northeastern part of the United States and arrive in Standing Rock, North Dakota on November 5. Ortega and his team of runners will go through Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation into Crescent Junction, Utah, Meeker, Colorado, Rawlins, Wyoming through Spearfish, South Dakota and finally into Cannonball, North Dakota. Along the route, the runners want to raise the awareness of what is occurring in North Dakota and share their Native American experience and culture. Mother Lori said they don’t expect to take breaks during the nights along the roads leading to North Dakota and "there will be feet on the ground 24/7." Presently, young Ortega is looking for financial support to pay for two vans that will be the supply ships for the runners, the expenses for gasoline and food. Hence, they have organized a bingo night in the town of Clarkdale on the Yavapai-Apache Nation. But, it will take more than a bingo night to propel the runners all the way to North Dakota. They are hoping that they can generate more interest with Indian tribes and all communities to support their run. The family has fundraisers planned to help with cost but appreciates donations. Funds in excess of what is needed for the run will be donated for the legal expenses to fight the pipeline. “I want to be able to make a difference to our world and my people’s land. If the Dakota Access Pipeline is successful and it leaks, then the oil will find its way to the rivers and it will destroy water sources. It will destroy the lives of families,” said Ortega. Riley and his run coordinators can be reached at email@example.com for donations and for runners interested in joining the run. The run has a GoFundMe account as well. Perseverance for Preservation can be found on Facebook. Don Decker serves as editor of the Yavapai-Apache Nation News in Camp Verde, Arizona.