On December 29, 1890, as many as 300 innocent and unarmed Lakota men, women, children, infants, and elders were gunned down by the United States 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. After the bloodshed, Chief Big Foot (Spotted Elk) and his band lie dead in the snow where they remained frozen for three days, until all were buried in a mass grave.
For decades, the Wounded Knee massacre was masqueraded as a battle, and marked in many American history books as such. A few months following the massacre, the United States government awarded 20 troops of the U.S. 7th Cavalry with the Medal of Honor, and to this day, those medals have yet to be rescinded.
Nearly a century following the massacre, history books finally acknowledge that what occurred at Wounded Knee was no battle, but an all-out massacre.
In 1990, Birgil Killstraight (Lakota) led the first Chief Big Foot Memorial Ride after receiving a dream. The Big Foot ride was to retrace the steps of Chief Big Foot and his band to Wounded Knee Creek, beginning on December 23, in Bridger, South Dakota, and ending at the Wounded Knee gravesite on the memorial of the massacre on December 29.
The original ride began with 19 horseback riders, and many among the communities of riders say the ride brought healing, while also bringing horses back to the people in a new way. In last year’s ride, there were over 200 horseback riders who participated in the Big Foot ride, and for the upcoming 25th anniversary of the ride, over 500 riders are anticipated.
The eight-day memorial ride is a healing journey which brings in riders from the very young, to the elderly. This year, the ride will also be in honor of the original 19 riders who made the first memorial trek on horseback, some of whom are now elderly and ailing, and some of whom have since journeyed to the spirit world.
While many different groups remember the Wounded Knee massacre through an array of interrelated events, the Dakota 38+2 Memorial ride in Minnesota overlaps four days of the Big Foot ride. The Dakota 38+2 ride is in honor of the 38 plus two Dakota who were hanged in the largest mass execution in United States history, following the Dakota conflict of 1862. Many riders of the Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride later join the Big Foot ride, in solidarity, to honor ancestors, and in efforts continue the healing process.
Messages of healing, reconciliation, and unity, continue to be inspired by events such as the Chief Big Foot Memorial Ride, and the Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride.
A new event for global healing has also been organized by the non-profit organization Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee. The Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee emerged more recently, with goals of remembering not only the victims of the Wounded Knee massacre, but all loved ones lost during times of war, and all of humanity lost to massacre worldwide.
“We acknowledge that there is no human society that has not been affected by massacre,” Jean Fleury, co-founder of the non-profit organization, Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee, told ICTMN. “We want to recognize how all of humanity is affected by massacre.” Fleury is Minneconjou, Hukpapa, Ihantowan and Oglala. She co-founded Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee along with Stephanie Rose Pratt (Hukpapa, Ihantowan), and Percy White Plume (Oglala Lakota).
A global ceremony for healing has been organized by Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee, encouraging others to join in ceremony on December 29, in recognition of lives lost to massacre, and also in an effort to move toward ending world violence. To date, there have been over one hundred pledges made to participate in the global ceremony on the Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee website.
The Chief Big Foot Memorial ride will commenced with prayer and ceremony on the morning of December 23, and a caravan of supporters are following the riders for the 8-day journey.
ICTMN will continue to report on the 125th Wounded Knee anniversary memorial events.
Sarah Sunshine Manning
Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.