Nay Ah Shing Students, Staff Attend Dakota Memorial

By Brett Larson, February 8, 2017

On December 26, 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history took place in Mankato, where 38 Dakota warriors were killed for taking part in a war against the U.S.

In 2005, a Dakota spiritual leader named Jim Miller had a dream that he was riding a horse across South Dakota to a river in Minnesota, where he saw the hanging of the 38 warriors.

The dream stuck with him and became the inspiration for the Dakota Wokiksuye Memorial Ride — also referred to as the “38+2” memorial ride because it remembers not only the 38 hanged that day, but also two more Dakota men who were found later and executed.

Each year since 2005, riders have trekked from the Lower Brule Reservation to Mankato — a 16-day, 330-mile journey that ends at the site of the hanging.

Bambi O’Hern’s sixth-grade class, along with parents and staff from Nay Ah Shing schools, traveled to Mankato to greet the riders on December 26, 2016, and it was an experience they won’t soon forget. The streets were closed off as a police escort led the 60 riders through town, their horses bunched side-by-side, some decorated with painted masks, their breath visible in the cold.

The riders were led by Wilfred Keeble, a Dakota Elder from the Crow Creek Reservation in Fort Thompson, South Dakota.

As one rider passed Bambi and her students, he asked if anyone wanted a ride. Jasmine Maurstad was game, and Bambi lifted her onto the bare back of a horse.

When the riders reached Reconciliation Park, they were greeted with an honor song and a ceremony recognizing the riders, but more importantly remembering those whose lives were lost on a cold day 154 years ago. Among the other purposes of the ride are reconciliation between Indians and non-Indians, and recognition of the historical trauma that the aftermath of the war brought for Dakota people, who were banished from Minnesota and forced to wander from Nebraska to Canada.

The students were also impressed by a girl who spoke at the ceremony. Her father, who had ridden in the past, had died last year, and she gave away his cherished items — shirts, boots, blankets, a jacket, a hat.

The highlight for some of the students came at lunch, where they shared a meal of buffalo with Jim Miller, the founder of the ride. They were struck by his kindness and his impressive presence, the way he hugged everyone he met, and his belief that “we’re all family” — Dakota, Ojibwe and non-Indians.

Jim said he hoped to visit the students at Nay Ah Shing this winter.

The students designed sweatshirts for the event with the names of the fallen, and they presented sweatshirts to Jim and his nephew Pete.

RaeAna Sam-Nickaboine said, “I was excited to meet Jim because we saw him in the movie, and then we saw him in real life.”

Jayden Maurstad agreed, adding that it was “awesome” to meet Jim “because he made the video happen.”

Chase Sam wrote about her experience in an assignment for Bambi’s class. “The field trip to Mankato was important because I know I may not attend this memorable field trip again,” said Chase. “It was also important because it was to remember the Dakota 38 plus 2 men that were hanged.” She said the sight of the riders coming into town was “one of the most memorable moments I’ll ever find.”

Meeting Jim Miller, she said, gave her “an overwhelming feeling of honor in his presence.”

Also on the trip were Jarvis Sam-Nickaboine, Jachi Johnson, Adam Benjamin, Ronni Jourdain, Dajatay Barnes, Bobby Eagle Jr, Bobby Eagle Sr, Elaine Rea, Naomi Sam and Education Commissioner Ed Minnema.

Bambi said, “I feel privileged to have the support of a great commissioner and school board who allow me to take my students to the ‘outdoor’ classroom and make history tangible and meaningful to them. This was a trip I know they will never forget — I know I won’t.”

According to historian Carol Chomsky, “The trials of the Dakota were conducted unfairly in a variety of ways. The evidence was sparse, the tribunal was biased, the defendants were unrepresented in unfamiliar proceedings conducted in a foreign language, and authority for convening the tribunal was lacking. More fundamentally, neither the Military Commission nor the reviewing authorities recognized that they were dealing with the aftermath of a war fought with a sovereign nation and that the men who surrendered were entitled to treatment in accordance with that status.”