MANKATO — Two weeks ago, 30 Dakota on horseback left the Lower Brule reservation in South Dakota on a trip across South Dakota and much of Minnesota.
Along the way, more riders have joined the Dakota 38 Wokiksuye Memorial Ride with perhaps 100 riders or more expected in Mankato to commemorate the 38 Dakota hanged on Dec. 26, 1862.
On midnight on Christmas Day, Dakota runners will leave Fort Snelling, site of the internment camp where Dakota were held following the war.
At about 10 a.m. Dec. 26, the riders will ride from Land of Memories Park, down Riverfront Drive to Reconciliation Park, across from the library — site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
They hope to arrive at the same time the Dakota runners do.
During a ceremony at Reconciliation Park, a new Dakota memorial will be unveiled, listing the names of those executed.
Darwin Strong, the coordinator of the ride, said the anniversary brings added interest and weight to the somber recollection of the hanging.
“There’s more emotion than you can imagine. It’s going to be huge,” said Strong of Morton, who expects 100 riders or more.
Strong said the new memorial will add more context at Reconciliation Park, a small park at the site of the hangings that features a large Kasota stone buffalo sculpture.
“There’s no explanation (at the park) of why it’s there, what the buffalo means. With the 38 names on the memorial, it will explain more about the reconciliation,” Strong said.
The memorial, built though support of Dakota and Mankato area residents and groups, will be kept covered until the unveiling ceremony.
Sidney Byrd, Dakota/Lakota elder from Flandreau, S.D., will read the names of the 38 when the memorial is unveiled.
The Maza Kute singers will sing a song composed for the 38. The Maza Kute singers are a traditional singing group from the Santee Indian Reservation in Santee, Neb.
Strong said the ceremony also will include five Native American color guards, who will honor the executed Dakota as veterans.
“People need to realize the 38 plus two weren’t just victims, they were warriors. They’ll be honored as warriors, as veterans.”
The “plus two” refers to Dakota chiefs Little Six and Medicine Bottle, who were executed in 1865 for their roles in the war.
Ben Leonard, director of the Nicollet County Historical Society, said Wednesday’s commemoration may be the last public event associated with the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War, but he hopes it isn’t the end of learning about Dakota history.
“I plan to do more on Dakota history next year and beyond to show that just because the calendar may turn, this isn’t the end of discussions,” Leonard said.
“I think with the 150th anniversary, so many relationships have been formed and so many people have learned about this that
didn’t know about it before. This may be a turning point in the way we look at Dakota history and the way we look at our history, and how we look at our shared history.”