We are a horse nation, we are buffalo people.
There is a mysterious connection between humans and horses. And nowhere is this more apparent then among Native Tribes of the Plains. The Lakota name for the four-legged who became so inextricably woven into the intricacies of their lives is “s’unkawakan,” or “sacred dog.” A name, reflecting the deep affinity among the people, and the animals’ role in their society.
Today, the S’unka Wakan Project strives to explore the mystery. Various Rides are organized with intent and purpose of their own. To bring awareness and understanding, to heal, promote unity, and to re-establish the historical connection among people and the horse nation. But the most incredible effect and transformation can be seen in the youth that participate. These young people experience significant change in their attitudes, toward others, their culture, their identity. They find their inner strength, maturity, and resolve through the challenges faced by the ride.
Since 1996, with the initiation of the first World Peace & Prayer Day, the unity Ride began in the Joseph Bighead Cree Reserve in Canada and wound its way to Grey Horn Butte (Devil’s Tower), Wyoming. In the following years, the ride has moved on to other locations, recognizing many sacred and historical sites.
These rides incorporate more than just Riders, they create community involvement in the various logistical and support needs that the rides require to complete. Families of the riders, the communities along the routes, and interested supporters of these events, all gain from the meaningful experience.
Big Foot Memorial Ride
One of the most successful and challenging rides remains the Big Foot Memorial Ride. Initiated in 1986, after one of the original founders had a dream to retrace the historical trail taken by Chief Big Foot and his band in the winter of 1890 which tragically ended in the Wounded Knee Massacre. This ride continues each December.
The journey begins in Grand River near Mobridge, South Dakota, and winds its way 200 miles south to the Wounded Knee Memorial site in Pine Ridge. The two week ride, often in the sub-zero temperatures, challenges both horses and riders alinke. It was realized that when the youth participated, there was a noticeable maturing as well as a new understanding of their individual potential and contribution as Native people. Caring for the needs of the horses, long days riding, cooking and cleaning campsites, all became part of the character and cultural building experience that remained well after the ride. Prayer ceremonies are also important aspects of the rides, and the long journey over the open land created a greater sense of awareness and understanding of the Earth.