9/11/2013 10:20:00 AM Wings of America celebrates 25 years of promoting running lifestyle to Native youth Goal of organization is to enhance quality of life for American Indian kids through running
A number of guests and Native notables in the art, political and performance world were on hand at a Wings of America 25th anniversary celebration in Santa Fe in August. Native American Rights Fund attorney Walter Echohawk (with braids) speaks of the history and contribution that Wings has made in the advancement of Native students by providing running and leadership camps throughout the United States. Standing behind Echohawk is Wings founder Will Channing, former Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, Wings board member Andrew Hixon and Oren Lyons, former Cherokee Chief.Photo/Rosanda Suetopka Thayer
Rosanda Suetopka Thayer The Observer
SANTA FE, N.M. - It all started on the Hopi reservation 25 years ago when Wings of America founder Will Channing came to the Hopi mesas. Channing hoped to start a running camp and running event to encourage Native students to think about health, cultural identity, leadership skills, wellness, self-discipline and meditation in solitude, all through running every day.
Channing understood that traditional running events and running are a big part of Hopi culture and tradition. So he thought "what better place to start than at Hopi where the historic Pueblo Revolt ended."
Within hours of Channing's arrival at the Hopi Cultural Center, he had more than 200 Hopi and neighboring Navajo students signed up for the first official run for Wings of America, which is based in Santa Fe, N.M.
During this year's Santa Fe Indian Market, Channing and members of his organization played host to a 25th anniversary fundraising event at the home of Dr. Leticia and Dr. Peter Chambers in the foothills of Santa Fe. The event included a live acappella music performance by NAMMY winner Joanne Shenandoah and her daughter Leah, a live painting art exhibition and sale adn a live auction.
More than 8,000 Native students from elementary school age to college age have benefited from Wings running events and mentorship clinics. This year's anniversary event raised a record amount of money. The organization will use the money to continue to support Native students in their efforts to make healthy lifestyle choices, raise cultural awareness, promote leadership and hope, and encourage the pursuit of higher education while fostering a strong sense of security with one's self and peers.
The evening's events were highlighted by a ceremony honoring Channing, co-founder Andrew Hixon, former Cherokee Chief Oren Lyons and former 1964 Olympic gold medal winner Billy Mills of the Oglala-Lakota Sioux Tribe.
Native students from both rural and urban environments are encouraged to join Wings events, which help blend on-reservation and off-reservation student experiences, helping to foster a better sense of history and tribal social environments among its participants, deepening a healthy respect for cross-tribal concerns and personal experiences.
Wings Program Director Dustin Martin (Dine') and Operations Manager Delight Talawepi (Hopi) were also on hand to update donors and guests on the success of the Wings organization.
A survey Wings conducted in 2000 showed a 99 percent graduation rate of Wings student participants with 94 percent of those continuing on to secondary education. This past year the group has increased the number of running camps to serve requests made from across the United States.
Along with running and fitness camps and running competitions, Wings performs community outreach events including walks for older Natives and their families and leadership training for coaches and facilitators who can then lead Wings camps and other Wings activities. The group also sponsors Native students who want to compete in national running competitions which can lead to athletic scholarships and a college education.
More information is available at www.wingsofamerica.org or (505) 982-6761.