By MIKE ANDERSON
Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Hunkering down after many hours of riding through the cold on horseback, Jean Fleury - the lead organizer of the Chief Big Foot Band Memorial Ride - took photos of the rising moon one day last week and thought about Wounded Knee.
It was there, 125 years ago this week, that the U.S. Army 7th Cavalry killed a large number of Oglala Lakota tribal members, an event considered by historians the final bloody chapter of the Indian Wars. Many of the dead were women and children. Accounts differ, with estimates of the dead Native Americans ranging from 150 to 300.
“I have ancestors buried there,” Fleury said, her voice trailing off.
She and about 500 other riders and peace walkers with the Big Foot Ride are heading to Wounded Knee to commemorate on Tuesday the anniversary of the massacre. Their route corresponds to the path Chief Big Foot and his band took on their way to Wounded Knee Creek, where the fateful day unfolded.
“We had about 200 riders the first day,” Fleury told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1VlJqG8 ). “That’s about twice as much as we usually see.”
Apart from the Big Foot Ride, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, there will be a commemorative ceremony at noon on Tuesday at the Wounded Knee gravesite on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Big Foot Riders and the 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, will be present, Fleury said. Another ceremony will be held in the evening at Pine Ridge.
Principal Alice Phelps of the Wounded Knee District School said she and her students will walk the 10 miles from school to the gravesite as a way of remembering and honoring the dead. Phelps said the goal is to teach the students the unvarnished truth of what happened while tempering the ongoing horror of the massacre with relevant lessons about cultural and spiritual heritage.
“We teach them the Lakota value system so they don’t carry hatred and anger in their heart,” Phelps said. “As long as they know who they are and where they come from, they can be Lakota wherever they go. They can live in both worlds.”
On the morning of Dec. 23, the memorial riders set out from Bridger, about 150 miles north of their destination. Covering an average of about 20 miles a day they were to arrive at Wounded Knee on Monday.
“It’s a very powerful thing that’s happening,” Fleury said of the ride. “And it is happening so beautifully.”
This is the third time Fleury has gone on the Big Foot Memorial ride. The first time was in 1990, the 100th anniversary of the massacre. She describes it as a sacred pilgrimage, this year especially. Some of the riders, she said, have been having visions in their dreams.
“The sacred is invoked,” Fleury said. “It is a pilgrimage full of deepening and spiritual awakening.”
This year, the collective dream is one of peace around the world, and it has become tangible in a way unlike on previous rides. This is the first year that Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee, the group that organizes the Big Foot Memorial ride, will hold a global healing ceremony in remembrance of other events akin to the massacre at Wounded Knee.
About 70 different communities across the world have answered Healing Hearts’ call to participate in the interactive prayer event at noon on Tuesday. The idea is to issue a resounding and unified message against violence.
“Massacre occurs throughout the world,” Fleury said. “And one of the great ways to honor our ancestors is to make a pledge to end massacre, to end war around the world.”