Last October 9th, the federal holiday named for Christopher Columbus, eight Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge Reservation drove from their home in South Dakota to the mountains of Colorado. Seven are Sacred Hoop runners who ran from Arizona to Standing Rock, North Dakota last year to raise awareness about the need to protect water and Mother Earth. They ran to support a 15-year-old Hopi named Riley Ortega who started the Perseverance for Preservation Run to support the Standing Rock Sioux Lakota seeking to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline then being built and crossing underneath the Missouri River by their reservation.
Last fall the youths from Pine Ridge stayed on in the prayer camp at Standing Rock as water protectors until it was bulldozed and shut down by the government. While standing unarmed and in prayer, all were seriously injured and hospitalized on November 20th when police attacked them with water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades and mace. The Lakota youths responded with prayer “for the police to wake up”, and they explained to police that they were camped there to protect water for the police’s children too.
Throughout their months-long stay at Standing Rock they were routinely visited by their spiritual guide, Ricky Gray Grass, who also accompanied them to Colorado on October 9thof this year.
In the Rocky Mountains they spent a week at various campuses of Colorado Mountain College and at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy where they talked about real Lakota and native issues – not a whitewashed version taught to school children about Christopher Columbus.
The youths did not ask to be paid for their presentations except for travel expenses since they could not otherwise afford the trip. To Colorado students and faculty the youths talked about their runs, about their experience at Standing Rock, North Dakota, and about the Lakota mandate to protect sacred water, to revere Mother Earth, to respect all beings. “Mitakuye Oyasin” they say. (Lakota for “All beings are related”).
Crowds filled each auditorium when they spoke. Rick Gray Grass opened each presentation and provided an overview of the events last year and of Lakota teachings.
He thanked One Spirit and all One Spirit supporters for their support last year. He explained to audiences that One Spirit had provided running shoes for the youths and also travel expenses when they ran to Standing Rock from Arizona. He described how One Spirit provided a big army tent for them to live in at Standing Rock and also gave them help to survive the treacherous North Dakota winter. The youths then took turns briefly describing their personal experience. At the end of each presentation the group offered an outdoor Lakota smudge blessing for everyone seeking it.
At the end of their final presentation for the week, Dr. Kathryn Reggio, Campus Dean of Colorado Mountain College - Edwards Campus , stated: “Every person here tonight just had their lives changed forever because of this presentation.”
(The Hopi have invited the Pine Ridge youths to another Perseverance for Preservation Run this fall. Last year Hopi ran to support the Lakota. This run will be across the Hopi Reservation where drinking water contains arsenic from mining residue. The Hopi have asked the Oglala Lakota to join the run in an effort to raise awareness about this reservation-wide health hazard to the Hopi that has not been addressed by the Government. The Oglala Lakota youths hope to leave Pine Ridge for Arizona on October 28th.)