“It was tiring and cold and scary at times,” says Handley, who was one of hundreds of Native Americans from around the country to participate in the Peace and Dignity Journey, a national event held every four years to raise Native American awareness. “For me, it was all about reconnecting with my culture.” From May to December, Handley and about 20 others covered 6,000-miles by foot—averaging between 50 to 80 miles a day—from Chickaloon, Alaska to Uaxactun, Guatemala.
They got help from support vehicles and visited Native American communities along the way. During the six-month trip, runners carried ceremonial staffs representing different communities. Handley and his ancestors are members of the Yavapai and Yaki tribes of Arizona. But for the trip, he officially represented the Kumeyaay—the tribe from his hometown of San Diego. Before joining the run, Handley had to receive approval from his tribal elders. “Because of the necessary physical and mental energy, not everyone can participate,” he explains.” Handley returned to the United States in December and began his sophomore year this semester. “Doing something like this, you change as a person,” he explains. “I didn’t have much focus before and now I’m interested in tribal environmental policy and helping Native people better manage their land.”