Historic run to affirm tribal sovereignty
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Facing the threat of yet another negative Supreme Court decision, tribal leaders and their advocates are gearing up for an historic cross-country run to call attention to their struggle for self-determination.

Volunteers in 12 states are being lined up for the first ever Sovereignty Run, a 2800-mile journey that will begin in Washington state on September 11 and end on the steps of the nation's highest court in Washington, D.C. "Indian Country needs to be unified," said Ben Ridgley, co-chairman of Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming and one of many involved in the large undertaking.

Key the effort are the self-described "double trouble" team of Fawn Sharp and Natalie Charley. Both members of the Quinault Nation of Washington, they are coordinating the run on behalf of the Tribal Sovereignty Protection Initiative, a group of tribes brought together by court rulings but whose resolve was solidified by last year's terrorist attacks.

"The September 11 crisis situation was doubly painful for me," said Sharp, who was with tribal leaders in Washington, D.C., when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit. "Not only as a U.S. citizen but sitting in a room full of tribal leaders and having an explanation of all these recent decisions."

"I think that tribes around the country and individual Indians -- once they realize to what extent we're facing a lot of diminishment of our authority -- need to take action," she said.

Since that day, Sharp and Charley have mobilized to get the Sovereignty Run off the ground. In addition to recruiting organizers and runners in every state, they are looking for tribal, corporate and individual sponsors to help raise at least $1 million for the public awareness campaign.

"We're reacting to a lot of issues out there that affect Indian Country," said Charley. "To me, it's time to get back to the basic concept of who we are -- our jurisdiction, our sovereignty."

When Ridgley got a call from Sharp, he jumped at the chance to participate. An organizer of the Sand Creek Massacre and the Fort Robinson Break Out runs, he has so far enlisted about 50 runners from the Wind River Reservation, home to the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes. "It's an opportunity for people to understand," he said.

"It's also education for our people to show how proud we are," he added, "to understand the sovereignty of our nation."

Sharp and Natalie are in the midst of finalizing the details and are eager to add more volunteers. "You don't have to be in too much shape," jokes Charley, imploring participation from all walks of life.

"Every mile counts," Sharp, who recently conquered her first marathon, quickly adds.

The organizers are planning small gatherings at various stops along the journey, with the goal of a tribal leaders' rally on October 7 in Washington, D.C. The timing is auspicious, as the Supreme Court in November is expected to hear the only Indian law cases it accepted this past term.

The Sovereignty Run isn't the only component of the tribal initiative. Draft legislation to reverse recent rulings on on tribal jurisdiction and taxation is being circulated in Indian Country.

But for now, the run is the key focus as the kick-off date nears. The Quinault Nation will provide the historic send-off.

"It's going to change Indian Country," said Charley.

Relevant Links:
Sovereignty Run -
Sovereignty Protection Initiative -

Related Stories:
Tribes seek to overturn Supreme Court (2/27)
Inouye challenges tribes on sovereignty (2/26)