Distance runner Fairbanks is influenced by the running journey

Douglas Fairbanks was a running leader of the Dakota 38+2 Honor Memorial Run for the past 35 years of the event. (Photo by Casey Ek.)

By Dan Ninham

Douglas Fairbanks, 74, member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, has had a passion for running for the past 62 years of his life. Fairbanks said, “My passion with running began at 12 years old. Since then, I ran 63 marathons, eight spiritual runs of 400 miles or longer, the 38+2 Dakota Memorial runs since it started 35 years ago, and at least 200 10k and 5k runs.”

“I am the caretaker of the World Peace and Prayer Day now in its 14th year and the running staff was presented to me by Chief Arvol Lookinghorse,” said Fairbanks.
The Dakota 35+2 Memorial Run was recently held on Monday, December 26, 2022. Fairbanks and other elders led a ceremony around a midnight fire next to Fort Snelling north of the Minneapolis St. Paul airport. Fairbanks and Willard Malebear Jr., Dakota, left the fire about 12:30 am and ran the first four miles of the 80 mile relay run to Mankato in southcentral Minnesota.

The late Willard Malebear Sr., Dakota, had a vision to begin the run over 35 years ago. He consulted with others who also thought the honoring of the 38+2 Dakota that were executed should be done with a relay run.

“This year is my first year as an organizer and next year I will be organizing the entire run,” said Willard Malebear Jr. “I am committed to helping my community and being involved supporting my culture.”

The logistics of organizing a relay run needs to be managed with a total team effort. The organizational structure includes many others to make it happen. Add in the frigid winter elements of a middle of the night and early morning running event throughout a major big city to the southern part of the state and being on time for the ending ceremonies meeting the horse riders.

The horse riders began at Lower Brule, SD on December 9th and rode 330 miles to Mankato. The runners met them for end of run and ride ceremonies. “The hanging sight is mind-moving where the horse riders do their ending ceremony. Runners stop in to join the ceremony on the way to the Land of Memories Park where the runners ending ceremony takes place. I get energized spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally at these ceremonies,” added Fairbanks.

Runners that inspire others are also inspired and driven by other people and experiences on their running journey.

“US Olympic 10,000m champion Oglala Lakota Billy Mills inspires me,” said Fairbanks. “I organized a run for the University of Minnesota American Indian Student Association called the Billy Mills 10k Gold Run. Billy Mills came to that run as a motivational speaker. He also ran with the youth in a one mile run. I continued that run for three more years that Billy Mills was present.”

“Andrea, my daughter at the age of twelve, ran the 10k. Billy also ran the 10k. At the beginning of the run Billy and I met Andrea and a boy the same age as Andrea. Billy ran with the boy and I ran with Andrea. Andrea won so the next year that Billy Mills came to the run he announced that Andrea was the first female to beat him in a 10k race. Knowing Billy Mills as I do makes all my hard work training and running all worthwhile,” added Fairbanks.

“Buck Jourdain, Red Lake Ojibwe, a marathoner and run organizer, invites me to runs including the Run Around Red Lake and the Sobriety Run from Red Lake to the Mash-ka-wisen Powwow in Sawyer, MN,” said Fairbanks. “Buck is a highly inspirational person, and I enjoy running with him.”

“Gary Charwood, Leech Lake Ojibwe, is the organizer of the Spiritual Run around the Leech Lake Reservation annually. Gary is a great motivational speaker, and conducts beginning and end ceremonies for the run,” added Fairbanks.

“One of the greatest moments that lifted me very high was during a run around Red Lake from Little Rock to Ponemah,” said Fairbanks. “As we entered the pow-wow arena in Ponemah runners broke out in an all-out sprint four laps around the arena. It sounded like many drums were going at the same time and everybody was cheering like I’ve never heard before. That moment had an impact that I will cherish forever.”