On Wednesday, January 9th, the Conscious Alliance team traveled to Fort Robinson, Nebraska to join 130 Northern Cheyenne youth for a day of education and remembrance before they embarked on the annual Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run, a 400-mile relay run back to their home on Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
Each January, a group of Northern Cheyenne youth ranging in age from 7 to 25 makes this epic 400-mile journey to commemorate their ancestors’ escape from Fort Robinson on January 9th, 1879. The runners pay homage to the bravery of those who broke out, the sacrifice of those who did not live through it, and the perseverance of the few who made it all the way back to their home in Montana.
The run is coordinated by Yellow Bird, Inc., a Conscious Alliance partner organization and non-profit dedicated to preserving native traditions and language; empowering native communities through social change; protecting mother earth; promoting healthy lifestyles; and creating cultural understanding and integrity.
We gathered in the local community center to listen to a few speakers including Philip White Man, Jr. and Lynette Two Bulls, founders of Yellow Bird, Inc., and Jenny, an elder whose grandfather survived the Fort Robinson Outbreak in 1879. The speakers called upon the youth to take this opportunity to unite with one another, their collective spirit, and shared ancestry in order to free themselves of “reservation-itis,” which is described as the low self-esteem and complacency many youth experience on the reservation that so often leads to drug and alcohol abuse.
After listening to the speakers, the runners were loaded up into vans and we caravanned to Antelope Creek, where on January 22, 1879 most of the Northern Cheyenne who had escaped Fort Robinson – including four women and two children – were hunted down and killed. It was very dark and cold, giving our experience an eerie likeness to the night of the massacre. Philip White Man Jr., joined by several elders and sacred men, led a prayer to the spirits of their slayed ancestors.
Our last stop of the night would be to the reconstructed Fort Robinson barracks. Now a museum, this is the exact site where their ancestors were imprisoned, starved, and deprived of warmth and water. This is the site of the Northern Cheyenne’s infamous breakout, and the beginning of their long, bitterly cold journey home. The kids lined up in groups and after a prayer offered by one of the elders, ran out of the barracks one by one and began their 400-mile trek home.
They run day and night enduring January temperatures and physical hardships, much like their ancestors did over 130 years ago, learning valuable lessons of unity, responsibility to self and others, and how to overcome adversities. They encourage one another through winter weather, the sand-hills of Nebraska, the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, and the plains and mountains of Montana. They gain a strong connection to the sacrifice of their ancestors. The run instills in them a sense of pride, greater self-esteem, a deeper respect for their identity and sincere appreciation for their homeland.
Images: CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff
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