Vi Waln: December a difficult month for tribes in the Great Plains
December is a difficult month for the tribes living in the Great Plains. Winters are often very harsh here and the extremely poor conditions many of our people live in make day-to-day survival much harder.

Subzero temperatures and massive blizzards are common. Frozen water pipes in Reservation homes along with snow drifts up to 12 feet in our front yards are part of winter wonderland reality on the Great Plains. Families who have no income are faced with up to six months of scraping up enough money to pay for expenses to keep their homes heated and their children fed.

Add to those expenses the burden of Christmas spending. Some of our children must go without an elaborate holiday filled with an abundance of food and gifts because their parents barely have enough to pay the bills.

I do want to thank all of the tribal and non-profit organizations who work every year to raise money to purchase food, toys and candy bags for our children who would otherwise go without these luxuries. Many of us on the Reservations truly appreciate all the effort put into making sure our children get something for Christmas.

Even with all the Christmas season hoopla we see on our televisions and in the stores, many Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people do not view December as a month of holiday celebration. December is always a difficult month because it holds many anniversaries for the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people and other tribes of the Great Plains.

I am one who believes in the memory capacity of our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). I really don’t think our cells forget much. Our ancestors were traumatized beyond comprehension; our cells still carry ancestral pain. I do believe that is why so many of us still have unprocessed inner issues and emotions that sometimes work to cripple us as human beings.

On December 15, 1890 our Hunkpapa Chief Sitting Bull was murdered at his home on Standing Rock by local Indian Police. On December 26, 1862 there were 38 Dakota men executed in Mankato, MN by order of President Abraham Lincoln. On December 29, 1890 our Hunkpapa Chief Big Foot, along with most of his band, was murdered in the cold at Wounded Knee Creek. In my opinion, residual of the acute horror which surrounded these painful events over a century ago is still carried in our cellular memory.

Some of you are familiar with the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is something we might associate only with combat veterans or someone who has been through a very violent experience such as rape, childhood sexual abuse, or witnessing an extremely vicious crime. When one suffers from PTSD the anniversary of the traumatic experience oftentimes brings back vivid memories that are inescapable.

In my opinion, PTSD is one of the reasons why we might see the spike in alcohol and drug abuse amongst our people during the month of December. For me, PTSD is also linked to grief and mourning. The outward excuse is to celebrate the holidays with more drinking or drugging parties.

But, in my opinion, the real reason for all the partying might be because we do not want to face the cellular memory we still carry of the violent deaths of our ancestors. Many of us drink heavily to forget, albeit temporary, the PTSD that floods our DNA during the last half of every December.

But not all of us drink to forget. Some of our people have organized memorial rides held during the month of December to pray for healing. “One of the most successful and challenging rides remains the Big Foot Memorial Ride initiated in 1986, after one of the original founders had a dream to retrace the historical trail taken by Chief Big Foot and his band in the winter of 1890 which tragically ended in the Wounded Knee Massacre. This ride continues each December.

“The journey begins in Grand River near Mobridge, South Dakota, and winds its way 200 miles south to the Wounded Knee Memorial site in Pine Ridge. The two week ride, often in the sub-zero temperatures, challenges both horses and riders alike…Prayer ceremonies are also important aspects of the rides, and the long journey over the open land creates a greater sense of awareness and understanding of the Earth.”

Also, according to the Omaka Tokatakiya/Future Generations Ride Facebook Group: “the Omaka Tokatakiya is the name chosen as we move into the Future of tomorrow’s leaders, we changed the name from "Bigfoot Memorial Riders", we finished our time of morning for our Ancestors, and we feel that it's time to move on and Celebrate Life and a New Generation, with a Vision that our Children and Great Grandchildren will continue to live in good health, happiness, we have survived and will continue to carry the prayers that our elders of the Bigfoot Ride has made for us.”

In addition, the Dakota 38 + 2 Facebook Group states: “On the 26th December 2008 a group of Dakota descendents will complete a 4 year memorial horseback ride to honor the 38 Dakota Warriors who were hung in Mankato MN in 1862. This was the largest mass hanging ever recorded in America. The ride also honors the two other Dakota, Medicine Bottle and Shakopee who were also hanged in 1864.” These riders brave a 330 mile trail that begins on December 10 the Lower Brule Indian Reservation and ends at the execution site in Mankato, MN on December 26.

More information can be found on the Facebook pages of both these annual memorial events. Please support the rides as they are on the last few days of their 2010 commitment to the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people. I am grateful to all who are currently participating on these two memorial rides. They brave the harshest weather known on the Great Plains to pray for all of us to heal from the trauma we still carry from the murder of our ancestors. Mitakuye Oyasin.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

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