Brian Arola | Mankato Free Press
After the Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Ride arrived at Reconciliation Park on Monday, Todd Finney recalled how his uncle's dream inspired the remembrance event.
Finney, a Wahpekute Dakota, said his uncle Jim Miller’s idea for horse riders to go from South Dakota to Mankato wasn’t received as well back when it started in 2005 as it is now. Riders endured warning gun shots above their heads along the way during that inaugural journey, he said.
Yet the ride pressed on in year one and each year since as a way to memorialize the Dakota men executed by hanging in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862.
Miller, a Vietnam War veteran dealing with health concerns related to Agent Orange, started a movement of remembrance and education, Finney told the crowd of hundreds gathered at the park Monday.
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“It comes from one of the darkest days in American history,” he said of the ride. “But yet here we are, all nations, colors and creeds standing together because a Vietnam veteran who had been forgotten by everyone else had a dream.”
Monday was the last ride for the first riders who started it back in 2005. In an announcement, organizers of the Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Ride stated their decision to end their official ride came after long periods of prayer.
It’ll be up to younger generations to pick up the tradition, with some in attendance on Monday stating their intentions to do so. Finney, whose Dakota name translates to “He Who Walks With His Good Heart" and Lakota name translates to “Fear Is No Enemy,” called Monday the end of “chapter one" of the ride.
“I don’t know if I ever see horses stopping coming here on the 26th,” he said. “One of our elders said ‘If we stop, they’ll forget again.’”
Isaiah Keeble has been a rider for the last six years, starting when he was 10 years old, and said he hopes the ride continues in future years. The tradition means a lot, he added, as it brings awareness to his people, his culture, and their history.
Keeble is the grandson of Wilford Keeble, a staff carrier for the ride. After the 2017 ride, which featured bitter cold temperatures similar to Monday's weather, the grandfather described the ride as being about "healing, reconciliation and cultural diversity."
This year’s ride set off from Brule, South Dakota on Dec. 9, persisting through the recent winter storm of gusty winds and swirling snow.
“Even though we had an interesting year, it’s nothing like what they faced when they started this,” Finney said.
People of the Oceti Sakowin, or People of the Seven Council Fires, made up the majority of the riders. Many of them are related to the men who were killed 160 years ago to the day, the largest execution in U.S. history.
The mass execution came after hurried “trials” against the accused, who fought in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. President Abraham Lincoln narrowed down the list of condemned Dakota from 303 initially to 38, all of whom had their names read during Monday's memorial.
The "+2" recognizes the two Dakota hanged two years later.
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, were there for the ride’s arrival Monday. Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, the first indigenous woman to serve in the Minnesota Senate, and Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, joined them.
Walz thanked the riders and stressed the importance of teaching indigenous history from indigenous perspectives. He apologized to the families who lost loved ones on Dec. 26, 1862, a sentiment he's shared after previous rides.
“My hope is that they say what’s happening here is reconciliation, righting wrongs of the past the best that we can and acknowledging the horrors brought on to people,” he said.