"Indian Run": Offensive?

In Indian Run, palo alto high school, random appropriation by Adrienne K.6 Comments

I’m currently in NorCal (I was presenting at the NAISA conference in Sacramento–our Native Bloggers panel went really well, thanks for all your help!). I went to get a quick lunch in Palo Alto before I headed to the airport, and spotted this sign as I was walking down University Ave. Notice anything weird?

The local Lululemon store has a running club–cool. But today, Palo Alto High School (our favorite!) is hosting an Indian Run.

So what’s an “Indian Run,” you ask? It’s a conditioning exercise, where a group of runners jog single file at a steady pace, and then the last runner in line must sprint to the front of the line, taking the place of the first runner, and so on. There are videos on youtube if you need a visual.

My bootcamp class I took in San Francisco used to do these too, but my group graciously decided to rename them “last man sprints” when I pointed out how ridiculous the name was.

The internet has no consensus on the origins of the term, and I can’t really find anything about the exercise other than how it’s done, but I still find it kinda stupid. It has nothing to do with Indians. I think this one is a term that needs to be retired, much like sitting “Indian style” (just call it cross-legged!).

I like the addendum at the end of the Urban Dictionary definition of “Indian Run:”

1. Indian run

An Indian run is when a team (soccer, football, baseball, etc.) joggs in a single file line around a playing field field. It begins when the last person in line sprints to the front. When that person gets there, the next person at the end of the line sprints to the front of the line. This continues as the line jogs around the field. Very tiring.

Not sure if this is a racist term.

Yeah, pretty sure since it has no discernible origins in anything actually Native, we can deduce it’s based off of some stereotype, and therefore fairly racist.


  1. Raven

    We Crees used to do that all the time whilst hunting the buffalo. Got us to the herd faster. Not!
    This reminds me of another ill-named practice – the Chinese Gift Exchange. Often used at office parties where names are exchanged and you buy for just one person. Then you can swap gifts or something. What that has to do with the Chinese is beyond me.

    My Metis partner just observed that it should be called a “Goose Run” because the Geese, when they are flying in formation will re-form when the leader gets pooped. The less pooped will take the lead to break the wind, which is a harder task. The others draft. It’s a community effort.

    Considering the Geese metaphor, I think Indian Run is actually appropriate given our communitarian ethic heritage. :o)

  2. jadenbobaden


    From wiki: Single Promenade: Dancers individually turn to the right, and Promenade single-file around the ring. This type of promenade is also referred to as Indian-style. In addition to all eight individuals promenading single-file, variations of this call include requiring only specific individuals to do the call (boys only, girls only, etc.), and designating whether the specific individuals should promenade inside the ring or outside the ring.


    There’s also a kids rhyme

    “One by one, single file walking in the Indian style”

    or something to that effect.

  3. bettyfokker

    It may be one of those “complimentary” stereotype things. You know, like “Black people have rhythm” and whatnot. Anyway, a lot of older lit I’ve read has had references to amazing running abilities displayed by Native Americans … there is even one in the Little House series (which is RACIST as shit, BTW) where a Native American races against a horse and wins. I could be completely wrong about all this though. I’m just trying to figure out where the senselessness of the name “Indian Run” might have come from.

  4. Aaron John Curtis

    I’m a member of the Akwesasne Kahniakehaka in New York State, – or Mohawk tribe, Iroquois / Six Nations.

    I’ve never been to any formal ceremonies, but I’ve danced and sung around a bonfire with my family a couple of times. This was how we danced, “Indian Sprint” style. Not a lot of conditioning involved, though. We barely got faster than a light jog.

    Again, I’ve never been to any formal ceremonies on the rez so I don’t know if this is the “official” way our nation does it.

    Yet as I’ve researched, I’ve been surprised by how much of what I thought was just our family’s quirky habits are actually traditions going back hundreds of years – our clans, how we’re named, etc. So it could be you can blame this on us Mohawks.

    Of course, knowing the origin doesn’t make it less offensive. If anything, the idea of some obnoxious coach taking a bonding moment with my family and turning it into a conditioning exercise makes it even more offensive.

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