DEER, Mont. After a five-day journey through four states, youth
runners from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana completed
a 400-mile journey Jan. 15 in commemoration of their relatives who
escaped from a military fort in Nebraska in January 1879.
this month, 97 runners from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, mostly
grade school and high school students, participated in the Fort
Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run. About 30 more supporters followed
them to cook, drive and offer support as one highway mile marker
eventually blurred into hundreds through Nebraska, South Dakota,
Wyoming and finally the southeastern corner of Montana. Many runners
and supporters shared stories about how the run changed their life.
was my first time, I didn't know what to expect except what I heard
from my grandchildren on previous runs," said Alaina Buffalo Spirit,
whose granddaughter and grandson joined the run. "It was very emotional
hearing the horrific events that happened to our ancestors. I was
moved to tears when I heard Jenny Parker tell the story of her grandmother
who ran into the night with a baby. When she went to take the baby
off her back, the baby's head had been blown off."
so, said Buffalo Spirit, she was moved by the positive effect the
run had on the youths who returned home full of pride, joy and energy.
Indeed, the students remained in high spirits beginning with the
first day of the event, which started with a prayer at Bear Butte
in South Dakota, to the exuberant homecoming reception in Ashland,
Mont., where hundreds of people lined the streets to greet the returning
whooped, hollered, honked car horns and shed tears of pride when
the runners ran as an entire group into town. Otherwise, they had
run the entire 400-mile stretch as relay, with male and female runners
paired together. The girls carried the Northern Cheyenne flag while
the boys carried an eagle feather staff.
run is organized by Phillip Whiteman Jr. and Lynette Two Bulls of
Yellow Bird Inc., a nonprofit organization on the Northern Cheyenne
Reservation. The event started 14 years ago as a run around the
reservation. Eleven years ago, they decided to expand it to commemorate
Cheyenne relatives who were rounded up and forcibly removed from
Montana to Oklahoma after defeating Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer
at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.
sickness and heat killed more than half of the Northern Cheyenne
while in the Indian Territory, about 300 people left Fort Reno Sept.
9, 1879. "In the middle of the night, the military societies said
enough is enough and they walked away," said Whiteman. Before they
could make it home, Dull Knife's band was imprisoned at Fort Robinson.
They were starved at the fort because they refused to return to
Oklahoma. On Jan. 9, 1879, the group decided to break out of the
fort's log barracks, choosing death over starvation and imprisonment.
many American Indians are still recovering from the historical trauma
associated with death, disease, imprisonment and unemployment associated
with a change in their traditional way of life. "After four generations,
I feel hope," Whiteman said. "That's what inspires us to fight this
battle of ongoing extermination of our people. At the same time,
I see the faces of the young people who have so much pride. Doing
something like this takes a lot of hard work. You have to have a
lot of passion to overcome negativity. That's what those original
warriors had to face. They faced overwhelming odds that didn't discourage
them from breaking out."
five-day journey is about more than running. All along the way,
they participate in prayers and ceremonies. Additionally, inspirational
speakers are invited to talk with the young people about how to
be better human beings. Speaker Gerard Baker, superintendent at
Mount Rushmore National Park in South Dakota, asked some of the
younger kids to do three things every day, including supporting
everyone around them and daily prayer.
inspired us to look in the mirror and say, 'I am a warrior,'" said
BreeAnna Little Coyote, 13. "He made me want to cry, he was so inspiring.
He told us we were all brothers and sisters."
though one might expect the kids to get more tired with each passing
highway mile, their joy and energy only seemed to increase the closer
they got to home. When the community in Lame Deer hosted their return
with a dinner, the youths painted their faces.
an outsider, they may have appeared militant, said Buffalo Spirit,
who traveled with the group. But the run has a much more powerful
effect, she said, noting how a few years earlier, the run motivated
Cinnamon Spear to enroll and later graduate from Dartmouth College.
The war paint signified their "warrior spirit. They were being prideful."
Coyote and Roshandra Little Cherries, 13, were among a number of
students on the trip who were convinced their warrior relatives
of Fort Robinson joined them on the run.
of Little Coyote's friends, said, "'BreeAnna. BreeAnna, can you
hear that? Just listen.' And I could hear old people singing way
out there while we were running. It was awesome. When we were finished
they stopped. You could hear a drum, too. It was really loud but
way out there." After the song, the girls also heard the women's
cry of honor. "There was 'luluing,'" said Little Coyote.