Detour at Sisseton: Dakota 38 + 2 Offer a Spirit Horse for Community in Mourning

Seth Eastman, a ride with this year’s Dakota 38 + 2 Ride, led a detour to Sisseton to support a community deep in mourning after a mass shooting.
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Seth (Iyokpiya Kaga Sni) Eastman prepped for this year’s Dakota 38 + 2 Ride with his community deep in mourning over the November 22 mass shooting that resulted in the death of 4 Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal members and left one badly wounded. During his preparations for the ride he envisioned going to that house and taking a spirit horse there. He said he was told by Jim Miller the founder of the ride, “In the Dakota way the spirit horse will gather whatever spirit is left there.”

The Dakota 38 + 2 Ride was begun in 2005 by Jim Miller from a vision he had to commemorate and promote healing and reconciliation over the 1862 mass hanging of 38 (and later two more) Dakota men ordered by President Lincoln in Mankato, Minnesota the site of the largest mass hanging in U.S. History. The Dakota men were being executed on December 26, the day after Christmas for a Dakota uprising when the United States did not honor treaties signed with four Dakota bands giving up 35 million acres of land which left their families facing starvation.

RELATED: Dakota 38 Memorial Ride Underway

Miller is a descendent of one of the Dakota 38, Little Horse and Eastman is a descendent of another Little Thunder.

Eastman told a friend Galen Renville, brother of Vernon Renville one of the shooting victims, who had lost his life in the house.

He says, “I thought it would be really beneficial for the families and the whole community. I didn’t expect anything out of it, even if it was just myself I’d go and do it. I didn’t want to put it on social media because it was a spiritual thing—just word of mouth and it went around people heard I wanted to do this. Jim Miller the original founder of the ride heard and he came up. Arvol Looking Horse [the Keeper of the Sacred Pipe] came up and all the spiritual elders. It was an honor to see Jim and Arvol and the elders who are the spiritual leaders of my own community to stand there supporting because I always looked up to them. A pretty huge crowd came out to do that ride. We did a seven-mile track.”

Richard Milda, who led the ride this year after Miller was injured said, “38 riders went to Sisseton because of the shooting that happened up there. The riders went there and circled the house and rode out to Old Agency and got a lot of support. We were very mindful of the people who are still grieving.”

Eastman explained the route the riders took, “We went south of Sisseton because symbolically our spirit goes to the southern part of the world when we die and then back up north to the Milky way. The horse is sacred—man is not as sacred—and the horse can heal the ikce wicasa, so we wanted to do that for our community. For a lot of them, it is still a recent thing and we tried to keep it really simple, not to put anything out there out of respect for the families who were still grieving.”

Kateri Bird, of the Dakota Pride treatment center helped to coordinate the meal afterwards for the community and the riders.

Eastman said, “We told the families that we are going to carry that prayer on to Mankato.”

A large contingent of riders who come from Sisseton and some of the family members of the victims will come to meet the riders at Mankato for the final ceremony.

This is Eastman’s third year on the ride. His nephew Monge Cha Eastman, 15 years old, joins him. His dad did the ride when the ride first started and his son now rides to honor him. He also has a second nephew Jacob LaBlanc 14 years old riding with him. His horse slipped on the ice on Wednesday but both horse and rider were fine.

“To see these young ones who are carrying these prayers.” Josette Peltier said, “Sometimes, it gets emotional. The ride comes from my brother’s dream. A dream from my ancestors wanting him to do this ride to bring awareness not only to our own people that it’s time to heal now. A lot of young folks don’t know why they feel depression or why they feel the way they do”

“Reconciliation starts with ourselves.” Milda explains, “When we do that individually. And everyone does that at a different depth and what they are processing, that’s the message we want to promote. Once every gets there then we are on the same page again. When someone drives by and makes a fake Indian (wooohooohoo). It’s sort of shocking. It’s so overt and we don’t do anything back and just keep on riding. They [the youth] really look at us they know we can get off our horse and really fight. But I said, and then another rider said, it, ‘Pray for them.’ We hope that they will look at it as another way to resolve conflict. We would if we had to protect them. I’ve been clean and sober for 27 years and never got in a fight since then. So, we are trying to model a different way to deal with that. To deal with that kind of stressful negative energy.“

Sam Wounded Knee of Crow Creek said, “Wherever we go the community comes and they ask us to pray for them. They write down what they want us to pray about and we’ll pray about everything from the kids to the hardship to the drug abuse to the alcohol abuse for the kids. Lots of kids on this ride. Really moving, they are so young but they grew up Native and riding horse. Some of them, especially the ones from Sisseton know the language and all the songs. Great to see kids like this it’s very rare. They are the future leaders of our tribe.”

“I have to pay my homage to my parents,” Eastman said. “My parents [Milton and Della Eastman] who paved the pathway for me. They’re big activists in the mascot issue. My mom she practices both ways. She knows the importance of restoring what we have and keeping that balance. I don’t want the honor give it to my parents. They are my creator. They created me.”

Please check with the Dakota 38 + 2 Facebook page for information on donating money or supplies.

Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler