Haiku My Heart Fridays is a meme started by Rebecca who pens the recuerdo mi corazon blog. To see more photos, or to read more haiku and participate, Click This Link.
Riders in the wind
Memories of ancestors
It was in 2006 that the idea of a commemorative motorcycle ride for the people of the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in Fort Thompson, South Dakota became a reality. These people were removed from their ancestral home in Minnesota and sent on an unbelievable journey to a place so foreign, they might as well have been sent to China.
I made this ride four years in a row. The number four, for the four directions, the four winds, the four stations of the life cycle and the four elements, has strong meaning. I made four years and did not make it another time.
The story below was written after the first ride. It will tell the story of what this is all about in more detail than the Haiku. In fact, it will make sense of the haiku. I still can’t get my mind around the idea that you will know what I’m talking about with the simple count of syllables.
The pictures are from that first year. The motorcycles circling the dance arbor and the teepees set up for our lodging if we so desired to use them. The children, recipients of the funds raised, dancing for us, dancing in our honor.
Buffalo County South Dakota, where the Crow Creek Reservation is located, is one of the poorest in the nation. The people there still suffer from poverty and an eighty percent unemployment rate. And that rate isn’t because of the so called poor economy that experts say our country is in the midst of, it is a constant, and the strife of the Dakota people who live there doesn’t seem to show any hope of changing any time soon.
Yet, as this story will tell you, these people still have hope and are generous to strangers. They still honor their traditions and respect the Elders, the Veterans and the Children. By the way, the last line of the Haiku is in the Dakota language and means, "We are all related". It is often pronounced, (mi-tok'-way Ah'-sin).
What a dream. I was riding my motorcycle through the summertime breeze with a bunch of friends. Some I knew, some were new friends. We were along the river. The vistas were fantastic. Through woods and prairies, corn and beans, the river flowing at our side throughout the journey. Together, as one, we rode for days. Our stops at night for rest and food were at beautiful wooded campsites. It was hot and muggy, cool and rainy, calm and windy.
When we got to a place in South Dakota, there was a car parked on the side of the road. A man was holding a camera, an arm waved from the front seat, little arms, those of children, waved from the rear. Then another car, and another, then a bunch all parked near an old cemetery, all with arms waving as we rode by.
We arrived at an overlook. A promontory with a view of a great river. We gathered there and people spoke. We rode again and after a short distance, two riders on horseback came out in front of us and led us into a grassy circle. The circle was full of teepee lodges with a great fire pit in the center. Over the pit was hanging meat from Tatanka, the bison. We were along the river once more. Spirits were all around us. Spirits of long ago and spirits of not so distant past. People were around the circle, standing around, some in their cars, some in lawn chairs in the shade of large cottonwood trees.
The mounted riders led us and we lined up one after another in the circle and got off of our iron horses. The people gathered and formed a line and came by each of us and shook our hands, Some were crying. Some hugged us. Some shook our hands holding ours with both of theirs. The children were there as well in great numbers and their shyness made them choosy about who they offered their little hands to.
A man played a small hand drum and sang a song in Dakota language. He told us the words to his song. He told us he wrote this song especially for us. The song sang the praises of a group of riders on iron horses that came to give him hope, give hope to all his people.
An old woman, an Elder, sat in a lawn chair. She held a feather of an Eagle upright in her hand. The small children were gathered about her like a magnet would gather paperclips. A younger man held an umbrella over her to shield her from the hot South Dakota Summertime sun. She brushed him aside and got up, and she sang and old song. An honor song, for us, the iron horse riders.
She beckoned, and each of us walked up to her one at a time. She sat there. Her eyes ahead, vacant, holding the feather. We put our hand in hers and she prayed, in a mumbled silence. Tears streamed down our cheeks as they have been since we saw the first car along the side of the road.
The people came by and shook our hands again. The children now less choosy, and more were crying, more people grasped our hands with two of theirs. Food was prepared and served. People, poor in terms of money, giving what they could to us.
This was a dream. A dream I lived. A feeling so incomprehensible. A feeling of pride, honor, struggle, sorrow and peacefulness.
The removal occurred during the spring of 1863 and moving over 1,700 Indian people by riverboat and trains accomplished it. This dark chapter in American history is scarcely a footnote in American history textbooks. The reasons for the Dakota Conflict were that the Dakota people were near starvation due to corrupt Indian agents who were swindling and denying the Dakota their food rations and annuity payments as guaranteed by the previous Treaties of 1851 and 1858.
The federal government often overlooked this pernicious behavior on the part of its Indian agents and these transgressions were often the primary causes of Indian wars. The media vilified the Dakota for their actions and 303 Dakota men were sentenced to death by hanging by a hastily organized United States Military Tribunal. The largest public mass execution occurred in American history with the simultaneous hanging of 38 Dakota warriors at Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862.
Over 1,700 Dakota men, women and children were forcibly interned at Fort Snelling during the winter of 1863. No accounting of how many Dakota Indian men, women and children perished during the brutal internment has ever been documented. In 1863, Congress, at the insistence of Minnesota territorial governor Alexander Ramsey, enacted a law to forcibly remove all of the Dakota from Minnesota to Crow Creek, South Dakota.
The first leg of their removal by riverboat ended at Camp McClellan in Davenport, Iowa, prior to proceeding down the Mississippi River to a place near current day Hannibal, MO. Across Missouri by rail cars to St. Joseph, then again by riverboat North on the Missouri River to end at Fort Thompson, South Dakota.
The commemorative motorcycle route follows the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the overland trail from Hannibal to St. Joseph.
After we left the circle we ate a great feast of buffalo and cake, stew, soup, fry bread, lemonade. We talked and made new friends. Some came up again to talk and say thank you. Thank you for remembering us. Thank you for giving us hope.
I told them that I was the one to be thankful. I gave them nothing, they gave me the greatest gift. A smile at the end of my ride. They allowed me to honor them, the survivors, the self determined few.
This was the scene at the end of the first year Commemorative Motorcycle Ride for the Crow Creek Dakota and the Winnebago people who were transported by river barge down the Mississippi and up the Missouri River in 1863.
They arrived in Fort Thompson on June 24th, 1863 and started their life there. They lived in spite of the horror cast upon them by some of the soldiers. In spite of the rocks and stones thrown at them from the banks of the great rivers. The rape, beatings, the separation and killing of their loved ones.
We rode to remember. We wanted to call attention to this event. We wanted to remember what happened in hopes we would reach an ear of someone, anyone, anywhere, that would say this should never happen again.
The people of Crow Creek were happy, happy with tears that anyone remembered that they were there, remembered their ancestors from the boat rides in 1863. Remembered that they are a proud Nation of poor but forgiving people. People who were happy this day as the riders on the iron horses came to say we know you are here.