Smooth Feather Productions
I’ve seen the Dakota 38 documentary three times now. Each time it’s stirred something in me that has no words, but much emotion. This film is about the Dakota Wokiksuye Memorial Ride first undertaken December 10-26, 2008 and held at the same time each year since.
In 2005 a dream vision came to Jim Miller, a Dakota Vietnam Veteran—one so terrible that he tried to forget it. He said you have a sense when something was real and “it wouldn’t go away.” What he saw was a dark occurrence in the name of justice, largely hidden in history and unknown to Jim at the time.
On December 26, 1862 at 10 a.m. in Mankato, Minnesota, 38 Sioux warriors were hung in the public square, the largest mass execution in the history of the US. President Abraham Lincoln ordered it so on December 6. Two more warriors were executed the following year.
With the influx of more whites and military, the Sioux had been herded into a narrow strip of land, not allowed to leave the enclosure or hunt. As part of the treaty they were supposed to receive rations. They didn’t. They were starving. To defend themselves, they fought back rather than starve. Atrocities were committed on both sides.*
In the opening lines of the film, Jim Miller talks about what it means to be Dakota—”to walk in harmony with every living thing.” Feeling directed by the Creator, he organized a ride on horseback over 330 miles, leaving on December 10, 2008 from Lower Brule, South Dakota to arrive for ceremony at the hanging site in Mankato on December 26. The Memorial Ride was meant to honor the ancestors and as resolution …forgiveness. This was not an easy undertaking. There were blizzard conditions to be endured. Participants faced conflicting emotions related to racism, something openly discussed. There were many poignant moments when the riders disclosed why they were riding: for ancestors, family, to lay something to rest within themselves. Communities along the way heard about their mission and helped out, unbidden, by providing food and shelter for the riders and their horses, especially in extreme weather.
The film lends hope, portraying people pulling together—even in emotional discomfort—attempting to heal and overcome horrible tragedies that never should have happened. We need so much more of this today. And such things kept in the dark must be known.
View the full-length film free on You Tube. Length: 1 hour, 18 minutes.
*Further research beyond the documentary showed the trials to be a farce, each one lasting about 15 minutes. In the end 303 were slated for execution, which President Lincoln reduced to 38.
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