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  • David Burnette

In to Wounded Knee

Updated: Jan 5, 2018


The day dawned warmer than we have come to expect. A fine day to ride to Wounded Knee. We circled up around the staffs for prayers and sage smoke to prepare us for the ride ahead. Percy White Plume spoke of important things that we needed to hold in our hearts and minds as we made this days journey. Powerful words from a good and wise man and one of the original Chief Big Foot riders in 1986. With his words held close we ride in a circle and follow the staffs out across the open prairie. The circle, always the circle at the beginning and end of every ride. The circle to remind us of the sacred hoop that represents all things in our world. All things travel in a circle, the sun and the moon, circles themselves. The four seasons travel in a circle as does our very life. We begin from nothing and are born into this sacred hoop. We travel the four stages of life and at the end our bodies return to nothing in Mother Earth. Always we acknowledge the sacred hoop.

This days ride is one of exceptional beauty as we get closer to our destination. We ride among the pine covered ridges and valleys from which the Pine Ridge Reservation gets its name and at every turn, every hilltop, another magnificent view opens before us. At times the sun breaks through the heavy clouds and illuminates the hillsides for a few minutes as if to draw our attention to the beauty around us. The day warms and I wonder if I should have foregone a layer or two of insulation.

As we draw closer to the valley in which the people died so long ago we all stop on a ridge top for a ceremony in which three young men are each honored with an eagle feather. The feathers are tied in their hair so they can ride down into Wounded Knee in a traditional way.

As we leave that ridge the wind begins to pick up and I'm really happy for every layer on my back. Our faces begin to burn from the cold wind and coats are pulled up close. It's as if every step closer to Wounded Knee brings a better understanding of the suffering that our people endured there in that valley floor. As we ride past the crooked gulch into which the women and children fled from gunfire the bitter cold cuts through every piece of clothing I wear and I know it has nothing to do with wind. It is as if I can see their ghosts and hear their cries.


My heart aches as it does every single time I come here, every single time. I wonder if there will ever be a day when I come here and shed no tears.

Perhaps when I complete my sacred hoop here on this earth and join my ancestors in this sacred place. Perhaps then, as I stand with them in ghostly witness, I will shed no ghostly tears, as I stand and watch another generation of my people ride with the wind into Wounded Knee. As we did today.


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2018 by David Burnette

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