Sacred Flame Tended on Turtle Mountain Reservation

May 15th, 1993 | By | Category: 5-1: Art, Tribal College News
By Paul Boyer

Runners bring the Flame Spirit Run torch into the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Photo: Turtle Mountain Star

A sacred flame that once traveled around the world now burns in a kerosene lamp in the home of Turtle Mountain College instructor Elma Wilkie. She and others around the nation are looking to build a permanent home on the reservation for the 600-year-old light.

Lit at the United Nations in 1986 from a flame first started by the Iroquois Confederacy six centuries ago, it has been carried by runners to 54 countries around the globe. It was even taken by Jacques Cousteau to the bottom of the ocean.

Two years later it began a new journey in the United States, traveling from Haskell Indian College in Lawrence, Kansas to each of the four directions. Called the Flame Spirit Run, it was intended to “promote peace among different ‘Nations’ of America,” according to promotional literature, and build “renewed hope for the future generations.”

Carried by American Indian runners, one torch was taken east to the Onondaga Nation of New York, another went to the Southern Kickapoo in Texas and a third was carried to the San Ynez in California. The fourth went north to Turtle Mountain, arriving on the reservation in May.

On the Turtle Mountain Reservation, Wilkie hopes money can be raised to build a perma­nent home for the flame that now burns in her home.

“It is a very powerful flame to start with,” she says. “It’s sacred. It’s what our people need.”

A new college campus is being planned and Wilkie hopes a shrine holding the flame could be incorporated into the design. If not, any site on the reservation would be satisfactory.

Wilkie says the idea of running with a flame to promote a message of unity and healing is a mixture of American Indian and Western cultures. Running long distances for endurance and to carry messages was part of tradi­tional culture, she says, while the carrying of a torch was probably inspired by the symbol of the Olympic flame.

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