Short Statement and
Background about the Ride
In the summer of 2004
I spent a week on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. While I was there
I was told about a two-week horseback ride across South Dakota that takes
place every winter. Twenty years ago it was started as a healing ceremony
for the pain caused by the Wounded Knee Massacre, and according to one
of the original riders, it had never been documented from start to finish.
I started photographing that year. This will be the fourth time that I
have been asked to participate.
My involvement was initiated by a young Lakota man, Brandon Ferguson,
who I hired to help me get around in the Medicine Root district of Pine
Ridge. I went there to better understand a few terms that were being thrown
around at the time—terms like democracy, sovereignty, and occupation.
I found it curious that with all the experts employed by CNN and their
ilk, none were from the nearly three hundred American Indian Reservations
that pepper this country. Those who live on Reservations have known occupation
for generations, have struggled with the definition of sovereignty for
hundreds of years, and have ancestors who helped invent the concept of
democracy. These were the experts I was looking for, and Brandon helped
me find people—a lot of people—who wanted to talk.
Just before I left Pine Ridge, Brandon told me about the ride, now called the Oomaka Tokatakiya,
or Future Generations Ride. It starts on December 15th, the anniversary
of Sitting Bull’s death, and ends on the 29th, the date of the Wounded
Knee Massacre. I’ve attended the ride three years, and in the summers
I return to the Reservations involved, to share my images and writings,
get feedback, and deposit my work in archives at the Sitting Bull College
Library and the Oglala Lakota College Archive.
In contrast to the dominant, disheartening imagery that typically comes
from the reservation, this work concentrates on the Lakota’s efforts
toward self-empowerment. While the ride is in many ways in homage to Sitting
Bull, and those who lost their lives at Wounded Knee, it is also meant
to foster leadership qualities in the youth. Along the way, the riders
experience some of what their ancestors endured by embodying an intellectual,
spiritual, and physical remembrance. Braving the cold (down to –20°F)
these kids, some of them barely into puberty, ride as many as 35 miles
in a day.
In 2005 I gave a
point and shoot camera to two teenaged boys and asked others to keep journals.
It was a wonderful experiment, and after a few days on the ride I was
asked to take on students in a more official capacity in 2006. Last year we started the workshop, two Lakota teens were given cameras: Jessica Peters, 16, and TC Hill, 12, both from Wakpala, Standing Rock Reservation. Every night we downloaded images and made prints for the riders. You can see our work here. For 2007 we plan to do daily postings from the field through a wireless laptop connection. This way people can follow the ride as it happens.
- Ken Marchionno
View the work from the first two years here.