PIERRE, S.D. — Riders culminated a 200-mile journey on horseback on South Dakota's Capitol steps Tuesday, June 4, to honor the hundreds of Native women and children who died at Crow Creek over a century ago, and the Native American women still being abused and murdered today.
The annual ride began five years ago as a memorial to the Dakota women and children who died when they were exiled from Minnesota to Crow Creek in South Dakota after the 1862 Dakota conflict.
In past years, the ride has begun in Santee, Neb., and finished in Fort Thompson, S.D. But this year, the riders trekked an additional 60 miles to the state Capitol in Pierre to bring awareness to disproportionate violence against Indigenous women, which prevails more than 150 years after the Dakota conflict.
Standing on the Capitol steps after the ride's conclusion Tuesday morning, Jim Hallum of Santee said violence against Native women is an epidemic. He held an eagle staff made to honor the Crow Creek victims, with 300 eagle plumes representing each of the children who died, and the head of a woman carved in pipestone at the top.
She wore braids and a plume in her hair to represent purity, but had no face: "That way it represents all the nations across Turtle Island, because it didn't just happen at Crow Creek. It happened everywhere," he said.
And it is still happening. According to the Indian Law Resource Center, Native women in some areas are murdered 10-times more often than the national average. More than four in five Native women have experienced violence, and over half have experienced sexual violence.
In a report released this week, Canada's National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls said the violence perpetuated against Native women "amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples."
Robin Bowen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe said Tuesday that losing a Native sister is like "being torn apart," and that you never stop wondering where she went.
"I want you to imagine that your mom or your sister or your daughter or your aunt said to you, 'I'm going to the store and I'll be right back,'" Bowen said. "And then minutes and hours pass, and soon days and weeks and months and years, and they never come back. You never know where they are. How do you think that will make you feel?"
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and Secretary of Tribal Affairs David Flute joined the riders for the final few miles of the journey to the Capitol steps. Noem said raising awareness, collecting data and implementing laws to go after perpetrators are steps to combat the issue.
"If we can get everybody working together to protect our friends, our neighbors, draw attention to it, and recognize that we do have a vulnerable population that needs to be watched out for, that's incredibly important," Noem said.
With a red scarf around her neck despite the summer heat, Bowen said before the crowd Tuesday that the missing Native women "were stolen from us," but they are remembered.
"To our missing women, where did you go?" she said through tears. "I will remember you in a prayer, and I will remember you in my heart."