Tom Ziegler holds an eagle staff during a memorial ride for his wife, Dorothy “Scootie” Kiyukan Ziegler, in eastern Nebraska, on March 26, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Horse ride honors life of Native educator Dorothy Kiyukan
350-mile journey from Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation to Yankton Sioux territory
Wednesday, March 31, 2021

NEAR LINCOLN, Nebraska – The 56-year-old Lakota man hoisted the eagle staff up and shouted over the rush of wind.

He told the six men and women who sat mounted on horses before him to spend the first 20 minutes of their ride in silence and prayer. He called on them to ask the creator for guidance and watch over them as they made their long journey across Nebraska.

Above them, the sky threatened rain. A strong breeze pushed the grass and trees by the side of the road. Tom Ziegler lifted the red cloth-wrapped staff a little higher and yelled, “Hoka hey! Let’s ride.”

With that, the seven riders turned their horses west and began trotting down the gravel road.

The riders began their journey on March 21 in Mayetta north of Topeka, Kansas, and they plan to arrive in Marty, South Dakota, on April 4. The 350-mile ride is being held to honor the life of Dorothy “Scootie” Kiyukan Ziegler, who died at the age of 58 on January 7 from liver cancer.

Kiyukan Ziegler was a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

Her husband, Tom Ziegler, said his wife loved horses, Native culture and children, and he knew after she died that he had to honor her by taking a long horse ride north.

“One of the main things she wanted to do was bring the horse society back into each culture, especially on her reservation and in the reservations up in South Dakota,” he said.

A woman prepares to take part in a memorial ride for Dorothy “Scootie” Kiyukan Ziegler in eastern Nebraska on March 26, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

The couple had taken part in many long horse rides over the years, including rides held to commemorate the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre and the hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862.

As with all horse rides, Ziegler said, he hoped the horse ride to Marty, South Dakota, would educate those he encountered along the way about Lakota horse culture.

And education was one of his wife’s greatest passions, he said.

Born in Chicago, Kiyukan Ziegler spent much of her youth as a ward of the state and moved from foster home to foster home until she ended up at the Marty Indian School. After graduating from that school, she attended the University of South Dakota, where she earned a master’s degree in psychology.

Eventually, she returned to Marty Indian School, where she served as a high school guidance counselor and later the high school principal. She earned many awards during her career, including the National Indian Education Association’s 1994 Educator of the Year Award and South Dakota’s Indian Educator of the Year Award.

In 1994, South Dakota Gov. Walter Dale Miller proclaimed October 28th as “Dorothy Kiyukan Day” in South Dakota.

Riders taking part in a memorial ride for Dorothy “Scootie” Kiyukan Ziegler travel on a gravel road in eastern Nebraska on March 28, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Ziegler said his wife loved helping youth get into college and get scholarships. She also loved being a fancy and jingle dress dancer. She was always laughing and enjoyed being around children.

“She loved being around kids,” he said. “She loved that laughter.”

“She loved to help people. She just wanted people to live a good life.”

Kelly Daniels, a photographer who has documented the journey on a Facebook page set up for the ride, said she met Kiyukan Ziegler several years ago after a fundraiser in Kansas City for the Wounded Knee Ride.

After receiving a horse as a gift, Daniels was looking for someone to teach her to ride, and Kiyukan Ziegler learned of this and reached out to Daniels to ask her to visit her and Ziegler’s home on the Potawatomi Reservation.

“When I got there, I found out that they’d been on the ride and that she had cancer and that she wanted me to ride,” Daniels said. “I knew that that’s where I needed to be.”

After learning to ride from Ziegler, Daniels said she began to understand how Kiyukan Ziegler was able to reach Native youth by connecting them to horses.

“I could understand the empowering effect that she had on children on helping them with the horses and returning them to the horse nation,” she said. “The horse is an amazing tool in helping us overcome our fear and moving forward.”

Daniels shared her story at the Indian Center in Lincoln, where the Native community held a dinner and prayer ceremony with a drum group on March 26 for the horse riders.

Later, the riders spent the night in a horse riding arena nearly Waverly, where a farming couple had invited them to stay for two nights. On the second afternoon of their stay, the riders set up a tipi outside the arena and visited around a campfire inside the area.

om Ziegler (center) lifts a tipi pole while erecting a tipi near Waverly, Nebraska, during a memorial ride for his wife, Dorothy “Scootie” Kiyukan Ziegler, on Saturday, March 27, 2021.

Ziegler said people have offered help to the riders all along their journey, including offering them grass, hay and water for their horses and places to spend the nights.

As they crossed a bridge over the Niobrara River just south of Fremont, local police offered them an escort, and later as they entered the boundaries of the Omaha Reservation, the Omaha Tribe’s police escorted them as well.

“All the people we met were so willing to help. The red carpet was rolled out for us everywhere we went,” Ziegler said.

The riders have collected donations to pay for the food and gas they need to keep the caravan moving. And the horse ride is a significant undertaking, including 16 horses, two pickups with attached horse trailers, a pickup pulling a flatbed covered in hay and corral panels, and four cars that supporters drive in order to transport people and luggage.

A rider takes part in a memorial horse ride for Dorothy “Scootie” Kiyukan Ziegler in eastern Nebraska on March 26, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

The group has documented their journey and collected donations on a Facebook page called Cante Waste Win Wiconi Icimani EcunHorse Ride Journey.

Ziegler said the donations and generous offers of food and shelter have kept up the riders’ spirits, especially during long stretches spent riding in the rain.

“Just knowing that they’re supporting us in any way they can is good to know,” he said. “That gives us strength.”

Daniels said the ride has brought her healing as well.

“This whole journey is about listening to spirit and listening to our hearts and healing,” she said. “Someone said we’d be touching people as we went, that the whole ride was something that would help people as we go just by being an example of riding and tradition and prayer.”

Cante Waste Win Wiconi Icimani Ecun – Dorothy Kiyukan Horse Ride Journey She said the ride has been difficult to manage at times.

“This is not an easy thing to do, riding across the country like this. It is extremely difficult,” she said.

But everyone on the ride is there for the same reason – to support Ziegler on his journey and to honor his wife’s love for culture, children and horses, Daniels said.

“This journey is about healing the people along the way, healing ourselves, healing our culture and giving support to that,” she said.