Native Sun News: Youth take on lead role in Dakota memorial ride

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

38 + 2 riders leave camp to begin their ride. Photo by Richie Richards

Lincoln said: ‘Hang ’em’
The largest mass execution in America’s history
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

LOWER BRULE –– The wars between Indians and whites covered centuries and the cruelties inflicted upon the indigenous people as they defended their homelands has rarely been taught in the public schools. Native Americans of today are telling their own stories and this one is one of many.

During the Indian Wars of the late 1800’s, heroes were made and heroes were sacrificed for the survival of their tribes and culture. This selfless act of courage and resistance has been ingrained in young warriors since the founding of our tribal nations and continues today.

Youth and ceremony are the center of the Indian’ continued existence. The annual Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride is evidence of the power of the seventh generation to lead under the healing powers of the Sunka Wakan Oyate. The dark history of the founding of America is the inspiration from which Indian youth lead.

Between 1851 and 1858, the population of Euro-Americans in Minnesota grew from 6,000 to 150,000. Twenty-six Dakota leaders were taken to Washington, D.C. to negotiate a treaty to accommodate the needs of the new colonial citizens. Of course, this meant the halving of the Dakota reservation and the Indians were forced to live in the lower section of their reservation in 1858.

Across the nation at this time, government corruption within Indian agencies was rampant. Many cases are recorded in history and many are lost. A warning from George E.H. Day to President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1862, is disregarded as he pleaded, “…the just vengeance of heaven continue to be poured out and visited upon this nation for its abuses and cruelty to the Indian,” a premonition of things to come.

Congress passed the Homestead Act and it was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. This act opened up millions of acres of land, free to settlers and available for purchase at $1.25 per acre after six months of occupancy. All of the lands of the hanged Indians went up for homesteading.

After years of having assimilative policies forced on Native Americans, the appointment of Indian Agent Thomas J. Galbraith of the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies had made things worse when he withheld food and supplies. In August of 1862, store owners refused to extend credit for Indians and local trader Andrew Myrick said, “So far as I’m concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung” to a crowd gathered. This comment would come back to bite him, as he was found dead days later with grass in his mouth.

The U.S. Dakota War or Great Sioux Uprising of 1862 began as a result of the Indian resistance to federal and state policies designed to exterminate their culture and steal their land. On August 17 four young Dakota men killed five settlers near the Acton Township and the next morning, Dakota warriors led by Little Crow (Taoyateduta) and others, attacked the Lower Sioux Agency killing government employees and traders.

In the next six weeks, settlements and military posts along the Minnesota River Valley were raided and in the end more than 600 Euro-Americans had perished, small number in comparison to the millions of indigenous peoples who died leading up to this time.

On the morning of Friday, Dec. 26 at 10:00 a.m., the 38 men found guilty by what the Indians called a “kangaroo court,” were hanged in Mankato, Minn. This was the largest mass execution in U.S. history and they were hanged simultaneously on a specially built scaffold.

The men sang prayer songs upon their being led to execution. Two men were “mistakenly” hanged that day as well - Wasicun (white settler adopted by the Dakota) and Wicanhpi Wastedanpi who went by “Caske” and stood up when that name was called. Nearly four thousand people gathered in Mankato to witness the executions.

To the Indians, it was also one of the worse cases of injustice in America’s history.

In 2005, Jim Miller, a spiritual leader living with companion Alberta Iron Cloud in Porcupine, had a dream of himself riding across the prairies of South Dakota on horseback. In his dream, Jim arrived on the edge of a river in Minnesota and saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanging. This is how the Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride from Lower Brule to Mankato began.

Miller considers this ride to be a healing ceremony and sacred journey. He shares that the “Sunka Wakan Oyate lead the way to healing.” This annual journey is an opportunity for riders to come and heal their communities, families and themselves.

The 2014 Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride began with a reception dinner on the evening of Dec. 9 with prayers, songs, introductions and a meal of buffalo soup with wild turnips provided by generous donations. This was an opportunity for riders of the 330 mile trip to make commitments of sobriety and give prayers for a safe journey. Although, this is a linear ride the results are circular in nature.

On the morning of Dec. 10, riders from around the world began the Ride on a chilly, brisk morning from Lower Brule. Riders and horses patiently waited while being fitted with blankets and saddles. Clouds of excited laughter filled the air just off the banks of the Missouri River.

Prayer led by Jim Miller began the ceremonial journey, people gathered in a circle to pray as riders on horseback circled in a proud stand of unity. Rider and coordinator Richard Milda was designated as staff carrier leader in Jim’s absence (Jim needed to have X-rays on a recent horse riding injury).

The role of the horse is central to the memorial ride as an agent of healing. When speaking to Mason Red Wing (18), a rider who has participated for six years, he told of the connection between himself and the horse.

“It is the horse who leads us," Mason said. "The horse can teach you a lot- about yourself, about your strengths and weakness, about your life in general. The compassion you give to an animal is the compassion you will get back.”

Mason is in his final year at Crow Creek High School and helps to support his family by being a cattle ranch worker.

On the morning the ride began, the role of the seventh generation in our communities is present and pervasive amongst all attending. To see young riders like Jake Iron Cloud, Talon Voice, and Monge Cha Eastman carrying on traditions is inspiring.

Monge Cha (Sisseton Wahpeton) is in his third year and rides to honor his father who died of congestive heart failure last year. His brother Tukan Icahdamani, who is named after one of the 38 hanged in 1862, will be joining the ride near Flandreau.

The young warriors wrote their own history in 1862 did so selflessly. They proudly sang their death song on that scaffolding as colonial vultures watched in harmonious glee. In the end, the victors of the 1862 Uprising are the youth of today who celebrate ceremonies like the Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride to honor the sacrifices of their ancestors. The Sunka Wakan Oyate is the connector of then and now. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes Indian children to raise our villages.

(Contact Richie Richards

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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