Honoring the spirit of Wounded Knee Con.

The riders continued on their way Dec. 27, with Sandra Speiden again on Topaz, traveling onward with renewed enthusiasm, both of them eager and excited to be back with the group, which had swelled in size to nearly 100 participants.

Sweat purification, as well as prayer ceremonies, were held several times during the ride. A lodge was erected out of quilts and blankets thrown over a frame of poles; water was poured over heated rocks to create steam for the lightly clad people within. The Indians attribute meanings to all the elements–the rocks, the water, the steam.

Ceremonies also often include “the drum,” an inclusive term for a group of men who sit or stand around a large drum and beat a rhythm on it as they sing.

When the riders reached the Wounded Knee Massacre site on the afternoon of Dec. 28, they were welcomed with a drum and honor songs, followed by a prayer circle, all in the Lakota language. The spiritual leader, Arvol Looking Horse, spoke of the history of the site. He urged the young people to become leaders and make sure another such event does not occur. Ron His Horse Is Thunder also spoke, and praised the youngsters for having made the ride despite pain and cold and hunger. He also gave credit to the horses, who, “hurting and wanting to cry, still carried their riders.”

Supper that night was in an Indian school in Manderson. Sandra Speiden had wanted to hold an honoring ceremony and give-away during the powwow that night for what was termed “The Riders of the North,” all those who had started at Sitting Bull Camp. Her gifts were 36 two-pound bags of Virginia peanuts, which were enthusiastically received.

Bob Gipp, a close friend of Ron McNeil’s and chairman of the board of trustees at Sitting Bull College, who had completed the trip, also had a ceremony and give-away that evening, honoring the Speidens with the gift of a second star quilt. McNeil told Sandra Speiden that the couple would be welcome to join the Big Foot riders any time they wished to do so.

The next morning, Dec. 29, the anniversary of the massacre, brought mild weather. The riders first were smudged, then cantered up the hill to the Wounded Knee cemetery. A somber and moving ceremony, mostly in the Lakota language, was held at the site where descendants of the victims of the massacre, including Virgil Kills Straight, a descendant of one of the four male survivors, formed a receiving line beside the mass grave.

A white flag of peace was flying there, representing the one under which the Lakota band was camped when they were disarmed and then attacked. For many years, the Lakota have been trying to rescind the Medals of Honor that were awarded to 23 U.S. Army soldiers after that event.

Sandra Speiden sums up the adventure this way: “This experience gave me a deeper appreciation of the Lakota acceptance of history and their attempts to move on in spite of the immense problems–suicide, alcoholism and poverty–of a proud people, isolated on reservations, that had always lived a mobile, communal lifestyle.

“It was clear to me that the culture the Lakota are striving to preserve is worthy of preservation. Their view of all life as being interconnected, their strong spirituality, their desire to live in such a manner that balance is maintained, their thinking in terms of what benefits the group rather than what benefits only the individual, all these elements bear respect and support.”

For the schedule of the spiritual/youth ride, check the Web site sittingbull.edu.