For centuries, young American Indians have run a series of trails that stretch from the muddy red waters of the Colorado River to the Arizona-California line.
Running the trail has been at the center of the Quechan Nation's religion, traditions and history. Now 30 young men are running to try to save the paths for the next generation.
The runners are making a 700-mile relay trek through California to focus attention on state legislation that seeks to protect ancient sites like the one they hope to safeguard from becoming a gold mine.
The group wants Gov. Gray Davis to sign a bill that would require local governments to notify a tribe of proposed construction within 20 miles of a reservation and to protect sacred sites from development.
Opponents of the bill said it could grant tribes veto power over both private and public land. The California Chamber of Commerce said the bill threatens to delay or stop public improvement projects, school buildings and new homes.
Davis, who has until month's end to sign or veto the bill, has not publicly taken a position.
"This is not only for politics," said 15-year-old runner Richard "Ticky" Smith, a Quechan tribal member who has sweated through triple-digit temperatures in California's Central Valley this week. "It's for all the elders -- the ones that passed on, the ones who are sick, the ones who can't run or walk or hear or see. It's also for the future."
The run began last Friday in Sacramento, Calif., and is expected to end Saturday at the tribe's Imperial Valley reservation. The proposed mine site -- at Indian Pass, a remote spot near the Arizona-California line -- sits on federal land outside their reservation.
Lillian Sparks, an analyst for the National Congress of American Indians, said no state has enacted legislation similar to the bill before the governor.
"California is really taking initiative to protect Native American sacred places, and we're hoping other states will follow through until we can get protection at the federal level," said Sparks.
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