Lakota ride to remember their massacred ancestors at Wounded Knee

By Taiha Molyneux

While millions in America celebrated Christmas day, Lakota (Sioux) descendants are braving harsh conditions in a 300 mile journey on horseback across South Dakota.

Every year Indigenous nations in America participate in the “Big Foot Ride” to commemorate Lakota Chief Spotted Elk and hundreds of their ancestors mainly women, elders and children massacred by US Cavalry Soldiers on the 29th of December, 1890.

Lakota riders brave the winter snows to remember their fallen. / Source - Jim Standing Bear Wheatley Facebook Page

The journey begins at Standing Rock and traverses the landscape back to Wounded Knee where the massacre took place.

Jim Standing Bear Wheatley is among those taking the journey this year.

Standing Bear told Te Ao Māori News that soldiers descended upon the Miniconjou, Lakota Sioux as they camped at Wounded Knee.

“The soldiers showed up and the people were Ghost Dancing, they (soldiers) disarmed all the Lakota people and when they did, there was only one that didn’t get disarmed and his name was Black Coyote.

“Black Coyote was deaf, and he did not know what was going on, and when they tried to take his rifle away from him, it went off and when that happened they opened fire, and murdered 300 men women and children, and that was the Wounded-Knee massacre."

According to many historical accounts of the Massacre, the majority of those slaughtered by soldiers were elders, women and children. Standing Bear says many of the Lakota women tried to hide the children to keep them alive.

“Some children were hiding because the mothers had hid them. But the soldiers told them it was OK to come out and as they came out, the soldiers would shoot them in the head, killing the children.”

Spotted Elk was a well-known and highly respected Chief he was renowned for his skill in battle his intelligence and his strong desire to find peace for his people.

“Chief Big Foot is what the cavalry called him, his real name was Chief Spotted Elk he had pneumonia and even though he was sick and dying they killed him anyway.”


At least 20 of the soldiers who participated in the slaughter of innocent men, women and children at Wounded Knee were awarded Medals of Honour by the United States Government.

To this day the Lakota (Sioux) are still fighting to have the medals stripped from the soldiers revoked.

In November this year, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley introduced a bill to Senate that seeks to strip the medals from those involved in the massacre. The “Remove the Stain Act” was originally introduced by representatives Deb Haaland, Denny Heck and Paul Cook in June.

As the fight continues, descendants of the Lakota people are carrying their ancestors history, knowledge and language with pride and the “Big Foot Ride” has helped them ensure their younger generations develop a strong understanding of their identity.

Natasha Noel Hart Luger says “We’ve been put down as a people in our spiritual ways and they try to break us that way so it’s really empowering for us now and from here on out it’s going to be a future generation’s empowerment ride.”

A sentiment shared strongly by Jim Standing Bear Wheatley, “this ride, this will be the last year for the Big Foot ride, but since its helping the youth so much it will be reborn as something else next year they’re going to ride from Wounded Knee north but in a healing way not to forget but in a healing way.”


The riders are expecting  to reach Wounded Knee on the same day the massacre took place, December 29th.

One of the direct descendants of those massacred Heavenly Lone Eagle says when they arrive “ we will share stories about our journey and just be together.”