SMSU hosts Dakota Riders

MARSHALL – Southwest Minnesota State University hosted riders from the Dakota nations on the ninth annual journey of healing and reconciliation on Thursday night. After dinner there was a viewing of the 2008 documentary on the history of the ride.

In 2005, Jim Miller had a dream of 38 riders traveling across the plains beckoning him to join them. Researching the history of the Sioux War of 1862, he came to believe his vision was calling him on a sacred quest to ride from Lower Brule, South Dakota, 340 miles to Mankato, where on Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota Sioux were hanged after the end of the war.

Two more Dakota who escaped to Canada were later returned to the U.S. and hanged.

Perry Little rode last year for the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in American history. This year he rode as Eagle Staff Carrier, the first year of his four-year term.

When a new Eagle Staff carrier is named, it is his responsibility to make a new staff.

“This year it was passed on to me and my family,” Little said. “Me and my brother John the Healer made it. It has 40 eagle feathers given by various families, one for each one hanged in Mankato. It came easy with the thoughts that went into it.”

This year three staffs were sent along on the ride.

“One is the Freedom Staff, sent from the Sioux Falls Penitentiary,” Little said. “They run with it inside. Another was sent by the Makes Room for the First family in Mission, South Dakota. They heard about it and wanted to send it with us.”

On the ride for his first year is Sky Byington, Little’s Sun Dance Brother, member of a traditional ceremonial fraternity older than the American nation.

“A month before the ride took place I had a dream about this ride,” Byington said. “We were riding to Mankato and the 38 were riding with me and told me to join them.”

On Friday, the riders mounted up and continued their journey to Mankato. Though bitterly cold, they’ve seen worse in years where they rode through blizzards and contended with horse issues.

“It’s better this year,” said rider Kenny Four Cloud. “When we arrive each evening it’s still daylight, and we haven’t had many horse problems.”

Each year as the ride becomes better-known, more people and institutions have stepped forward to offer hospitality for the men and their horses.

“I’m inspired by the fact that it’s a ride of reconciliation with the goal of bringing people together and creating understanding,” said SMSU President Dr. Connie Gores. “I’m inspired and encouraged by the example of people working together to make a difference.”