The Songs of Our Fathers

Documentary photography alongside the Dakota 38 + 2 Wokiksuye memorial riders


It is said that there is no such thing as the voiceless: There are the deliberately unheard and the preferably silenced. Here are voices, past and present, speaking up together about the grave injustice of forced relocation and the 38 Dakota Osage hanged in Mankato in 1862.  Voices that speak languages stifled by oppression and share tribal wisdom that endures despite relentless repression. A heavy silence punctuates these voices. Silence for missing and murdered women and for those lost to addiction. Silence to pay respect to Elders with more knowledge than any book. 

This annual 330 mile horse ride retraces the steps of the Dakota Osage who were forcibly relocated from their homeland in Mankato onto the Brule Reservation in South Dakota. Despite its grim origins, this ride also celebrates unity and survival. It is a moment to come together, to discuss tribal issues, to teach the little ones traditional songs, and to compare notes on how Dakota has been spoken from one generation to the next. 

Feelings run strong on the ride. Heartache is rampant. A young man speaks of craving the songs lost in his father’s mouth when he died. Empathy is tangible. Perhaps it is the unique connection between the riders or maybe the topic of death is all too relatable. Addiction, trauma, and violence have become familiar stories. 

Despite generational hardships, kindness endures. Riders stop their horses to fix the flat tire of a stranded motorist. Riders mentor new participants and communities rally in support.  It is a time of peace, a time of respect. We take our gloves off to shake hands. No matter how cold.

These stories have immense power. Stories of the untold history of this land. Stories of traditions and victories, of atrocities and broken treaties. A legacy of unending betrayal. A legacy that these riders won’t allow to define their story.