With many wearing only T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers, 130 Cheyenne youth ran through a blizzard and below freezing temperatures to honor their ancestors. Across windswept plains and the treacherous wilderness of the Black Hills, the Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run recalled the escape of Northern Cheyenne who broke out of prison on January 9, 1879, where they had suffered abuse and torture.
“If they were cold, I will be cold,” Emerald Jefferson, 17, Cheyenne, announced with determination.
The whipping winds and white-out conditions on January 10 were comparable to those faced by their ancestors determined to return to their homeland, Lynette Two Bulls, Lakota, said. According to the Nebraska State Historical Society, 64 men, women and children were shot down as they broke free.
On Friday night, the youth burst from the cold and snow into the warmth of the Mother Butler Center in Rapid City, South Dakota after running through the snowy Black Hills. This was their stop for the night.
Cheeks flushed from the cold, the tired youth expressed a deep connection with their ancestors throughout the run. Some young people talked of being watched by eagles and feeling the spirits of their ancestors running with them. Ariel Little Coyote, 13, Northern Cheyenne, said that she cried as she ran, and that she felt the pain and suffering of her ancient relatives.
At the Mother Butler Center, some rested their heads on tables while speakers offered the youth inspirational messages. Traditional Chief Phillip Whiteman, Northern Cheyenne, sat amidst the youth and shared his thoughts, “This run is not just for us, it is for everyone. It is a healing for all nations, the four colors of Mother Earth.”
Whiteman declared that the nation is suffering from an infection, “And when the body has an infection it effects the whole body. It isn’t just our nation, but the nation. We need to bring awareness of historical trauma. As First Nations people, we never received any counseling but we are not victims. We are survivors. We are a part of the human nation and we are in distress. As First Nations people we have to take responsibility because we can’t wait for “them.”
Two Bulls and Whiteman, her husband, have organized the event each year since 1999 when only 15 people ran in Lame Deer, Montana. This is the 14th year of the 400-mile relay run. It started this year on January 9 in Fort Robinson and made it’s first stop in Pine Ridge, the route Chief Dull Knife took with the weaker of the survivors 135 years ago. The second night was spent in Rapid City, the third day the runners goal was to make it into Montana. The run was completed on the fourth day, and runners were met with a celebration by many members of the tribe at Busby, Montana.