Sitting Bull College Horse Races Celebrate Tradition and Community

Feb 21st, 2016 | By | Category: 27-3: The Trials of Teacher Education, Tribal College News
By Lisa McLaughlin and Cara Moulton

Horse races are common throughout the Standing Rock reservation, influencing SBC to hold its own event for students and community members alike.

The Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota, has a long history with the súnkawakhán, or the horse. Indeed, the Lakota and Dakota are a horse people, and Sitting Bull College (SBC) has incorporated this cultural tradition into curricula and campus life. This year, SBC hosted a day of horse races, enabling the college to bring the community together to celebrate the horse culture of the Lakota and Dakota people.

Excitement mounted as the day of the event approached. At 8 a.m. on the morning of the races, six urns of freshly brewed coffee awaited as trucks pulling horse trailers descended upon the local rodeo grounds. The scent of sage, which had been burned with a prayer to initiate the event, still lingered in the air, as horse riders of all ages gathered around.

The youth races began that day and the young riders were chomping at the bit to get started. Joe Yellow Fat and his father Dana rode their ponies back and forth along the starting line. Dana gave Joe a cheer as his son took off in the boys’ race. Later in the day, Joe was able to cheer his father in the men’s races.

The event was not without drama—or comedy. During the women’s races, one horse immediately barreled into the crowd and back to its trailer, while another ran the other way up a nearby hill. To the cheers of the crowd, only two of the five women finished the race.

In addition to the horse races there were foot races, where men and women lined up in cowboy boots to compete. One four-year- old stole the show as he ran the whole length of the track despite his mother and younger brother having to stop.

In total there were about 20 participants and 100 local people in attendance, many of whom then went over to join others at the college to eat thathánka, or buffalo, which had been shredded by hand for a community feed. The day celebrated not only the súhkawakhán and thathánka, but the community itself. It was the start of what Sitting Bull College hopes to make a regular tradition.

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