Last Monday was a memorable Memorial Day on many fronts.
Along with the seventh graders on their cultural trip, we started the day at the Dull Knife Tribal College in Lame Deer, Montana.
We met Mina, who has done extensive work interviewing elders and bringing together the history of the tribe in an organized way. She spoke of how preserving the language and stories help the next generation move forward with pride.
We also met Leroy, who put our St. Joseph’s students at ease with his joking and teasing, while also teaching some important lessons about life. The Lakota (Sioux) people have a tradition of Heyokas and the Cheyenne have a similar tradition of Contraries. They can play the clown and teach by humor and joking.
Rain prevented us from going to the site of the sun dance Sitting Bull held before the Battle of Little Big Horn, but Leroy brought it to life in our imagination with his vivid description of what went on there.
Clara also crossed our path that day and shared some of her poetry, especially recounting the occasion that she received her first eagle feather. Since she also edits the local newspaper, she made sure to take our picture and promised our kids they would be included in next week’s edition.
The clouds parted and the sun came out just in time for the Northern Cheyenne Memorial Day parade. The powwow royalty rode on floats, and different organizations threw the ever-popular candy to kids as they passed by. Several horseback riders also graced the route.
One float had a group of second and third grade drummers. We were at the end of the parade route, and they called us over and sang a few more songs just for our group. We laughed heartily when they included a fun powwow song about SpongeBob Squarepants!
We followed the crowd to the cemetery for the posting of colors and laying of a wreath. Much of the instruction was in the Cheyenne language, but the emotion and honor transcended words. We paid respects at Chief Dull Knife’s grave.
The Cheyenne were a strong warrior society, and paid special tribute to the many who currently serve in our country’s armed forces, and those who did not return from distant battlefields. We received this recounting of bravery in battle on one of the very hills that marked some of the last battles of the Indian Wars.
Afterwards, we went to powwow where a delicious meal was offered to everyone in the community.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield is always a moving place for me to visit. This being Memorial Day, remembering all the fallen on both sides took on an even more special meaning.
In the time since I first visited 20 years ago, there has been an effort to include the sacrifice of Native American Warriors who fought to save their families and to preserve a way of life.
Besides the white grave markers where the 7th Calvary fell, the battlefield is now also marked with red gravestones where Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors died. I noticed Chandler, who is from the Minnecoujou band of the Lakota, next to a marker for a warrior from her band…probably a not-too-distant relative.
The interpretive movie and talk with the rangers moved me to tears several times, as I thought of the history of our students’ ancestors. We drove and walked around the vast fields, remembering, imagining, learning and sharing.