NEW ULM - The Renville County Historical Society director and a Crow Creek, S.D. suicide task force organizer, hunting and fishing guide talked about the making of a documentary film and answered questions about it Monday during a screening at Martin Luther College Auditorium.
The film - "Dakota 38" - sprung from a dream that Native American spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran Jim Miller had in the spring of 2005. In the dream, he found himself riding horseback in the South Dakota great plains, arriving at a Minnesota riverbank where he saw 38 Dakota hanged, despite never knowing about the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history on Dec. 26, 1862.
"When you dream, you know it came from the Creator," Miller said. "...It bothered me night and day until we did the ride."
Four years later, the dream became reality and the subject of a documentary film when Miller and a group of horseback riders, which includes natives and non-natives, braved late December cold, driving snow and ice, retracing the 330-mile route from Lower Brule, S.D. to Mankato, arriving at the hanging site on the anniversary day of the execution.
The ride began in Lower Brule, site of an 1862 Dakota prisoner of war camp, the men said.
In the film, Miller said the ride was about healing from the wounds of 150 years ago and today's killing fields of drugs, alcoholism and depression.
Franky Jackson of Morton, the first minority person to lead a county historical society in Minnesota, called the ride "a personal path to healing."
"Learn your family history while you can," he said. "The Dakota suicide rate is three times the national average. One of the youngest riders took his life a year after the ride at age 21."
A University of Minnesota Morris anthropology major, Miller urged the audience to get to know their neighbors, whether they are red, white, black or yellow.
"I'm a cultural millionaire," Jackson said. "I'm not interested in squealing tires on a (Cadillac) Escalade. I'd rather have my culture over materialism any day. We all need more dialogue and networking to come together on all levels."
Hunkpati Suicide Task Force organizer and Crow Creek, S.D. hunting and fishing guide Peter Lengkeek said his mother overcame a rough childhood in a Dakota boarding school to show him love and compassion as a child.
Lengkeek said many Dakota children were taken away from their parents at young ages. They were sometimes beaten and sexually assaulted at boarding schools under the guise of Christian churches, but were operated like military boot camps, scarring young Dakota lives forever.
"I've got aunts and uncles who grew up in boarding schools and have never hugged me yet," Lengkeek said. "I've got cousins who have never been off the reservation or been in a non-native home. I want to help people reconnect with culturally-based programs, not just some program the U.S. government throws money at."
"Dakota 38"?can be viewed on You Tube or downloaded without charge at smoothfeather.org.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).