Dakota Prayer Ride and Water Walk makes its way through the streets of Mankato, Minnesota. All photographs by Joseph Skywatcher.
Published December 30, 2018
MANKATO, Minn. — On Wednesday, the Dakota Prayer Ride and Water Walk reached its destination, Mankato’s Reconciliation Park, concluding the ceremony that started in Sisseton, South Dakota on December 10. The 17-day walk and ride, organized by women of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, followed the path their ancestors took fleeing the 1862 Dakota Uprising. Participants joined the 38+2 Wokiksuye (Memorial) Ride, the overnight Mankato Run from Fort Snelling, well wishers, and dignitaries including Lakota spiritual leader Arvol Looking Horse and Minnesota Governor-elect Tim Walz for a ceremony honoring the people.
“It was good to see so many people from all backgrounds come together to greet all the walkers, riders, and runners and and to honor our Dakota people,” said walker Melanie Stoneman.
The Dakota Prayer Ride and Water Walk honors the Dakota who fled US Army in 1862 and the 38+2 men who were hung in the largest mass execution in the country’s history.
“When the 38+2 were hung, for them it was over but the women and children endured terrible suffering,” said rider Helena LaBatte. “They cavalry did what they wanted with them. They chose who they wanted, what age and what gender.”
“This walk is about healing the women, and also for reconciling our men and women,” LaBatte continued. “Women were the keepers of the water, the dogs, and the horses. For us to be whole again, we need all three.“
“Last year, as we planned the first of four annual walks, we prayed for guidance,” said walker Paula Looking Horse. We thought about all the streams and rivers that the walk would cross over and how contaminated many are from dairy farm operations as well as the 2017 bitumen spill that happened just west of the Sisseton Wahpeton reservation. Water is a spirit and praying with it can be very powerful. We decided to ask permission from the water walker grandmothers to ask the water to help our people and they agreed.”
Walker Darla Thiele with the water pail.
“We carried water in a pail provided by Ojibway grandmother Sharon Day and were joined by Dakota grandmothers from both US and Canada,” Looking Horse said. As we walked the path along the Minnesota, we felt our ancestors presence all the way. We understood that the water would help us carry our prayers even stronger, as we prayed for the healing of the water. Many signs showed themselves of how that was possible.”
“This year we also raised awareness about the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous men, women, and children,” Looking Horse continued. “All of these issues are connected. If you don’t respect the people you can’t respect the land or the water.”
“Finishing this long spiritual journey gave me a sad but happy feeling,” said Stoneman. “Knowing what our people have gone through and faced back there makes me think that whatever is in our path of hard times we will get through anything. We’ve hope people will continue to join us in prayer and action throughout the year and on our next walk in December 2019.”
All along the journey, a spirit horse carrying an empty cradleboard honored the Dakota ancestors, as well as missing and murdered indigenous men, women, and children.
Members of the Dakota Prayer Ride and Water Walk, Dakota 38+2, Fort Snelling Runners, and the public at Reconciliation Park.