As we enjoy the winter season and break with family and friends, the thought of Indigenous people riding by horseback to commemorate the ancestors seems like a distant thought.
However, on Dec. 15, 65 Lakota and other Indigenous riders left the Sitting Bull site on the Standing Rock Reservation to ride approximately 191 miles to Wounded Knee, South Dakota to remember their ancestors who were massacred and buried in a mass grave.
The riders ranged in age from about 7-years-old to 60 plus. Many people refer to it as a healing ride as well as a memorial act, and indeed it is a spiritual expression of faith and compassion for the survivors.
The atrocities related to extinguishing a race of people are still felt with each passing year as the descendants gather together to ride for future generations. The strength of the riders to endure the long journey is fueled by the honor they have for their ancestors who endured a brutal history not commonly told, or found in books.
The history of the people and their historical accounts from past to present are shared during the ride. This type of sharing is a traditional way to teach, because it is told in the moment as an individual is moved to remember what is needed for the younger generations to survive.
It is also an opportunity for Indigenous people to strengthen the values and belief systems that were held and passed down from generation to generation.
The courage for Indigenous people to move forward today is often overlooked by western society because little is known about their struggles. Those daily struggles for Indigenous people today are not much different than the struggles of the past: poverty, discrimination, inequalities, racism, and the dominant control for power and wealth.
Yet, amidst the challenges, Indigenous people endure because they understand that they are spiritual people who represent the true and oldest culture found in this country and on this continent. This spiritual understanding involves compassion, respect and love for the natural world.
The Indigenous understanding that it is destructive to harm innocent people and natural environments will eventually be appreciated as all people feel the effects from the lack of natural resources and the ability to thrive in an unnatural technological world.
On Dec. 26, the Dakota 38+2 Riders will commemorate their efforts in Mankato, Minn., where the largest mass execution of the hanging of 38+2 Dakotas was ordered by President Abraham Lincoln. The Riders, their history, is American history and it is part of all of us.
Those of the western culture who live and enjoy the privileges they have in this country now know the price that was paid by the Indigenous people who were forced to give up their homeland to make room for immigrants from all over the world.
Remember as you celebrate with family and friends that these atrocities occurred during the western holy season of Christmas.