STANDING ROCK RESERVATION — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe closed its offices Tuesday in celebration of a nearly 150-year-old victory against the U.S. military.
On June 25, 1876, the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne defeated Lieutenant Colonel George Custer and the 7th Cavalry in The Battle of Greasy Grass, which some call Custer’s Last Stand.
In remembrance of the victory, the Tribe held its 12th annual horse racing event at a track located about two miles south of Sitting Bull College on Highway 1806. A Powwow followed in the evening. Dozens of trucks and cars lined the inner perimeter of the track, and people brought coolers, lawn chairs and umbrellas to watch the races.
“A lot of elders are here, all coming together to remember our history,” Tribal Chairman Mike Faith said.
Wakan-Yu-Bbece-Win Obago, 22, whose ancestor fought in the battle, helped sponsor the “Capture the Flag” race, in which riders try to be the first to capture the American flag, perched on a hill.
Jack Thomas Jr., a rider from Cannon Ball, won the race, and attendees lined up to shake his hand after the event.
“It puts pride in your heart knowing that, out of all these nations, we are the only nation to defeat the U.S. government,” Obago said. “That makes me proud, as a Dakota person.”
Jon Eagle Sr., the Tribal historic preservation officer, sat around a drum with several others and helped play victory songs after each race.
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“Today is an opportunity for us to gather and honor our ancestors,” he said.
The day isn’t just for celebration, but to help revitalize horse riding among Tribal members, Eagle said, noting Custer once dubbed them the “best light cavalry in the world.”
“If we can remount our people on horses, our children and grandchildren and those unborn will once again flourish,” he said.
Joe Yellow Foot, 20, has been riding horses for six years. “It’s our celebration; it’s our day,” he said.
His mom, Jen Martel, said, “We’ve always had a connection with our horses. They’re therapy for us, for our people.”
Obago, a member of Standing Rock and Sioux Valley, noted that the title “Greasy Grass” was given to describe the way the grass swayed back and forth, giving it a shimmery look, on the battleground that day.
“It’s good to remember things,” she said. “This is apart of our history, of everyone's history.”