“Good horses. Good friends. Good day. Very thankful. Spiritual strength. A day of prayer.”
That was Elmer Yazzie’s Facebook post 12 days into a 330-mile journey on horseback through South Dakota and Minnesota. Yazzie, a Navajo man, Christian, and art teacher at Rehoboth (N.M.) Christian School is participating in the annual Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride. The ride has been taking place since 2005. It’s a coming together of Dakota people, people from other American Indian tribes, and settlers to mark—as an act of reconciliation—the execution of 38 Dakota people on Dec. 26, 1862, the end of what is known as the Dakota War of 1862. (Two more Dakota leaders were executed three years later, after being found in Canada—that is the “plus two” in the ride’s name.)
Yazzie has been documenting the journey through posts on the social media site and through his gift of art. He is sketching pen and ink drawings of the participants, the horses, the landscape—and even capturing spiritual moments. “Spirituality is the center of this ride,” Yazzie said in an email to The Banner. “Reconciliation is being built.”
Yazzie said he first learned of the ride through his daughter Sierra, who works as a counselor in the Minneapolis Indian Center and had become acquainted with it during her work there.
Away from his family at Advent and Christmas this year, Yazzie said he warned them a year in advance. “I was called to do this ride last year,” he said. “At Christmas of 2017 I announced to my family that I would be absent next Christmas.” Yazzie said he is grateful for his superintendent, who gave him early leave from classes in order to participate. He drove with a horse trailer and three horses from New Mexico on Dec. 7 and will return after the completion of the ride, leaving from Minnesota on December 27. Yazzie said the group of riders, more than 40 on one day but increasing and decreasing in size during the various legs, has stayed in community centers, hotels, 4-H clubs, and other places of lodging along the way.
Another of Yazzie’s daughters, who also shares a love of drawing, was a delegate to Synod 2016, the annual general meeting of the Christian Reformed Church. His father, Sampson Yazzie, was a CRC pastor, retired in 1986 and passed away in 2005.