The arctic ice is melting, and cold descends into our country. Decembers have been harsh for the Dakota people and the Horse Nation. One hundred years ago there were 25 million wild horses roaming the plains, now we are down to 25,000 after the widespread roundup and slaughter of wild horses in the American West. American bison were almost wiped out during that time, and the tribes of the plains were not faring well either.
When the Ghost Dance Religion arrived it gave hope there would be a revival of the old times. The U.S. Office of Indian Affairs outlawed the Ghost Dance in 1890. The behavior of the tribal members worried the Indian Agent at Pine Ridge who desperately asked for protection and that the leaders be arrested.
The order to arrest Chief Sitting Bull at the Standing Rock Reservation resulted in his death on Dec. 15, 1890. On learning of Sitting Bull's death, Chief Big Foot (Spotted Elk) led his people south to seek protection at the Pine Ridge Reservation. The army intercepted the band and brought them to the edge of the Wounded Knee Creek to camp. The next morning on Dec. 29, troops fired into their camp with Hotchkiss guns and approximately 300 Sioux were killed including Big Foot. This massacre at Wounded Knee effectively ended the Ghost Dance movement, ended the Indian Wars and hope for the future.
To mark the anniversaries of a twin tragedy for the Sioux Nation of the killings at Wounded Knee but also the slaying of Sitting Bull, a group of riders leave from Standing Rock and ride for weeks over 300 miles to the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. They endure to honor their relations. At that first ride Sioux spiritual leader, Arvol Looking Horse, said, "Today we pray for unity and peace and ride as an effort to mend the sacred hoop and bring our people back together."
Two weeks ago my son and I had walked behind this leader as we walked to mend the sacred hoop at the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Prayers and action were powerful, and two hours later the permit to stop the pipeline was announced. It was Arvol Looking Horse who repeated the message of peace when Wesley Clark, Jr. and others apologized to tribal elders the next day.
America's wild horses are protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The law prevents the killing of wild horses on Bureau of Land Management land except in some limited circumstances, such as old age, lameness or sickness.
The BLM is using population-control methods to stem the growth of its wild herds. One Powerball winner in South Dakota adopted over a thousand wild horses on his 33,000-acre ranch. His horses will live in peace until death, all are geldings, having been castrated upon their removal from the wild ranges.
They are watered from dams and tanks installed to bring water from the Belle Fourche River. I lived for a time with my family in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and that river ran through the town, as rivers do, but it's size always made me think it was only a creek. The funniest thing happened one cold day, I crossed it, and it was frozen solid, but it froze so fast it froze with waves caught as in motion!
Bob Wright, a medical doctor, and Harvard MATCH Project researcher brought his daughter Alexa to Tar Creek when she wasn't yet a teenager. I took her to George Mayer's horse ranch in Commerce and told her about his horses and his hope to restore the land that was covered with acid mine water. That land now has a passive water system treating that water. Alexa loved horses and she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian and is now well on her way to pursuing that goal. Last summer she interned at Pine Ridge, South Dakota castrating wild horses. A few weeks ago while at Standing Rock, some of her horse patients might have walked by me, some with riders, some, walking around the camp on their own while some could have been on the Powerball winner's ranch.
My son Dana Jim and I stood in line for press passes with James Kleinert who is a filmmaker and also rides the Big Foot Memorial Ride. We spoke about how winter in those parts brings back memories of times of great grief and now are woven in with moments of peace. Those horses are riding now and will ride until they arrive at Wounded Knee, just as their ancestors did one hundred and twenty-six years ago. Decembers to remember.
I can't help but think of a local native horse-loving girl who wouldn't have eventually made that ride, Rachel Wright; the Horse Nation was well known to be her relation, too.
With all our Relations ~ Rebecca Jim
— Rebecca Jim is executive director of the LEAD Agency