PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Two dozen Native Americans on horseback arrived at the South Dakota Capitol front lawn on Saturday to the sounds of a tribal drumbeat and welcoming cries, for an annual ceremony of remembrance honoring missing and murdered indigenous women and children.
The ride began May 25 at Santee, Nebraska, with the final leg starting at Farm Island State Recreation Area just east of Pierre on a still, overcast 60-degree morning. As the riders turned onto the Capitol grounds they went past a statue of the late Governor George S. Mickelson, who had proclaimed 1990 as a year of racial reconciliation.
The event on the Capitol front steps was meant to help keep the MMIW issue fresh.
“To the non-natives here, how would you feel when your children, your daughters, disappeared on you?” asked Jimmy Hallum of Santee, Nebraska, one of the ride’s leaders.
“We want to shoot from the heart. This is coming from our heart. Tired of it. Why is there no amber alerts on the state level for our people?” Hallum said. “We’re gonna come back, and we’re going to be back, and we’re going to be back. We’re gonna be that burr under the saddle, until something is done.”
Governor Kristi Noem had participated in the 2019 ride and received a quilt as a gift, but she wasn’t there Saturday. Nor was her administration’s secretary of tribal relations, David Flute, a past chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, who had attended in 2019, too. No one from the state government was there Saturday.
The South Dakota Legislature in 2021 established an MMIW liaison in the state attorney general’s office but didn’t provide funding. The Native Hope organization based in Chamberlain this year pledged $85,000 annually to fund the position for three years.
As part of the ceremony Saturday organizers played a recorded song, Remember Me, by Fawn Wood — “Remember me, remember me, when the sun comes up in the morning sky, there I will be, there I will be, soaring with the eagles so high…” — in tribute, and later names of missing woman were read aloud, with a single drum beat after each. A drum group played several songs.
Leta Wise Spirit of Pierre was one of the speakers.
“A lot of times our women are abused. People in positions of power shouldn’t have to be invited to these things. They should be here regardless to hear our voices,” she said, as a dog barked from the small crowd. “The governor shouldn’t have to be invited. People in positions of power, the police department, they shouldn’t have to be invited. They should be the ones seeking us out to ask us what they can do to help us — “
Yelps of support sounded.
“–because as a native person, I know, there are times that we need help, but we can’t go to the police, we can’t go to law enforcement, we can’t go to places that are supposed to help us, because our families get reprimanded, the situations get worse.”
Hallum finished with an explanation about a ceremonial staff that featured the effigy of a woman, carved from pipestone, atop more than 300 eagle plumes. “She has no face, because she represents all you women that are struggling today,” he said.