THE CRAZY HORSE RIDE
A RITE OF PASSAGE FOR LAKOTA YOUTH
BY: Karyn Souza
It is said, “One spark creates a wild fire. One drop of water creates a wave.” That’s what happened when Pine Ridge Reservation native Bamm Brewer decided to create an event to honor Lakota Warrior Crazy Horse.
Now, 15 years later, about 200 youth participate in a ride from Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where Crazy Horse was killed, to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The riders are symbolically bringing their fallen chief’s spirit back to the reservation and a rider-less horse, wearing an eagle feather in its mane and believed to be under the guidance of Crazy Horse, leads the way. Chief Crazy Horse was killed after surrendering to United States forces because he wanted to protect the Lakota from continued reprisals at the hands of the federal troops.
The 15th Annual Crazy Horse Ride, “In Honor of All Veterans,” begins June 3rd and this year’s theme is “In Honor of All Veterans.” That first day, riders will cover 30 miles along the Crazy Horse Highway to the City of Chadron, where police will escort the riders along the city streets.
The next day travelers remount for the eighteen mile journey to Beaver Valley. The hallowed historical sight marks one of Crazy Horse’s favorite camps and is also the last place where his body was seen.
Here, the youth are taken to see the burial tree Crazy Horse was placed inside. They are challenged to remember how hard he fought for the Lakota Way and they spend a night of ceremony, tradition and honoring.
After a day of rest, the riders embark on the fourth day over the last twenty
seven mile stretch of the journey to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
When Brewer began the ride, he didn’t realize that it would become an annual event. Initially, he planned it for one year, but that stretched to four years because of the youth’s enthusiasm.
“Whenever the Lakota do something in the Sacred Way it is a four number, Brewer explained. “The ride changed from one year to a four year commitment”. At the end of the fourth year, the participants gathered at the Powwow Grounds, where the elders and spiritual leaders speak. Brewer thanked everyone there, saying, “This is it. We did four years. It was great!”
The youth responded resoundingly, “You mean it’s over? No! This is our life! This is what we live for all year for this one time of the year!”
Impassioned by their pleas, Brewer agreed to make the ride a permanent event, “As long as you want to do it, I will keep it going.”
The youth have thanked him by filling eighty percent of the two hundred riders each year. By doing that, they added a third aspect to the Crazy Horse Ride. The ride still honors the veterans and the commitment of Crazy Horse to the Lakota Way of life, but it now also serves as a yearly rite of passage for Lakota youth.
The key to the actual success of the Crazy Horse Ride has been the youth, Brewer said. “It’s been good for the youth. They struggle in a place of poverty, gangs, drugs, alcohol and everything that comes with that. Youth that are in trouble with gangs and stuff go on the ride; it shows them something else to do – a different alternative. A lot of kids grew up on the ride and it prevented them from going down the wrong path.”
A generation has grown up participating in the event credit staying substance free, excelling in school and doing well in their adult years to the Crazy Horse Ride.
Unity between the Lakota and outside communities has become an integral part of the event. It has been said that this event builds the participants into a family. If it were not for the generous investment of those participants who believe in the value of the mission, the massive undertaking it requires would not be possible.
AFTER THE RIDE
Actions are already underway to prepare hundreds of horses for the ride. To mount and feed 200 people and take care of both people and horses over the four day event is a massive undertaking. For those four days the youth are given individual, spiritual and family support that really is a daily necessity. The huge question from both the youth and the adults is what happens after the ride. The 15th Annual Crazy Horse Ride needs you to help complete its mission. To be able to extend the positive impact the Crazy Horse Ride has on the Lakota youth, Bamm Brewer has constructed a camp experience that will be conducted throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall. The camp will be a well-balanced sobriety adventure that will include training in horsemanship and the care of horses, participation in the Little Big Horn and Badland rides, rodeo preparation for those interested and work activities such as caring for horses, mending fences, learning to repair vehicles, cooking, cleaning. Also included in the camp will be involvement of elders to pass on skills, knowledge and history and just plain fun time.
The Crazy Horse experience is included in our youth campaign. This is truly the year to support the efforts of the Lakota people to change the life of their youth and in fact, in many cases, to save their life, either from the specter of suicide or the lure of alcohol, drugs and gangs.