They began in Lower Brule, South Dakota on December 10. Their journey will end 330 miles away in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26—the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in United States history.
In 1862, at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War, 38 Dakota men were hung from a single platform in Mankato. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Winnebago and Sioux-Dakota Removal Acts of 1863 banned them from their lands. And the removal process was brutal. William E. Lass, an associate professor of history at Mankato State College, wrote about the removal and its effects in 1962 in The Removal From Minnesota of the Sioux and Winnebago Indians.
This is why remembering that time is so important. And why the fact that it was four degrees below zero when the more than 50 men, women and children left didn’t stop them on December 10.
The point of the ride isn’t just to remember those 38 Dakota lives that were lost, but to also preserve Dakota language and culture.
Riders will speak in Dakota and eat traditional foods, as well as take part in religious ceremonies and sing traditional songs along the way.
“These young people here, they’re learning a lot,” Gaby Strong, 49, one of the adult leaders of the Lower Sioux riders, told Minnesota Public Radio. “Not just about 1862, and not just about their ancestors’ experiences. But also about what they can become, what they themselves can become, as Dakota people.”
Strong is one who joined the anniversary riders for some 60 miles of the journey.
There are a number of younger riders who take the journey as well. Vanessa Goodthunder, 18, has already been on the ride six times before this year.
“When you ride you have a lot of time to think and pray,” she told Minnesota Public Radio, “and think about your ancestors and what happened. It’s a wokiksuye, which is memorial. And this is our time to heal.”
The ride was created in 2005 by spiritual leader Jim Miller after having a dream about the hangings. Miller is a direct descendant of Little Horse, one of the 38. He hopes both Natives and non-Natives can forgive and come together, reports The Daily Republic.
“With that dream, he says we should be the ones to reconcile,” Crow Creek member Wilfred Keeble told the Republic. “Maybe it will happen.”
Miller’s dream is also the subject of Dakota 38, a documentary film, which ICTMN will feature in an upcoming story.