In 2018, there's easier ways to hold a fundraiser than a 400-mile trek on horseback, said Dave Ventimiglia, executive director of The Tipi Raisers. For example, they could hold a silent auction in a hotel or start a GoFundMe page.
But when the organization sets out each year to raise money for impoverished Lakota Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, they want to do so in a way that honors the Lakota nation's heritage.
Riding cross-country is emblematic of how Lakota people once lived, Ventimiglia said, sending men out to hunt for food and resources.
So, on July 14, roughly a dozen native and non-native riders set out on the first leg of the 2018 Lakota Ride of Reconciliation.
The 22-day journey started from the Cherokee Ranch & Castle in Sedalia and goes up the Front Range, ultimately passing through four states before ending at Pine Ridge.
“For us, this is about bringing people help,” Ventimiglia said. “It's about non-native people riding with Lakota people and forming that relationship.”
Like Ventimiglia said, the event's mission is two-fold.
First, they hope to raise money for people on the reservation, to buy them food, clothing and most importantly fuel for the winter. Many families do not have running water or electricity to help them weather South Dakota's brutal winters.
Darla Black, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said it's common for families to make a monthly income of $400. She attended the ride's opening ceremony July 14 to “thank the people who have been giving donations.”
They'll also use funds to remodel homes at Pine Ridge and complete the construction of a new home for the Belts, a family of five living in a camper.
The second mission is to bring native and non-native people together for cultural learning and healing.
Native people often face racism and discrimination, Ventimiglia said. He hopes the ride will help non-native individuals learn what it's like living in poverty, and better understand Native Americans' relationship with the government. For the Lakota people, he hopes it helps restore trust in non-natives.
“It's very interesting to meet a lot of different people along the way,” said Waylon Belt, the family's father.
He's participated in the ride three times, counting 2018. This year his girlfriend, Priscilla, and their three children will hopefully get a roof on their home through ride donations.
Tessa Brown, a 13-year-old from Boulder, became familiar with the Belt family's story after working on their home through a school project. Meeting them inspired her to ride in this year's event.
Brown, who attends private school, said visiting Pine Ridge was eye opening. She saw children without access to education, and poorly stocked grocery stores.
“I realized how much I had,” she said, adding her respect for Waylon Belt also inspired her. “He tells awesome stories.”
James Holmes, executive director of the Cherokee Ranch & Castle, said the foundation believes partnering with the Lakota people would make the castle's past owner, Tweet Kimball, proud. They hope the event spurs cultural understanding and were excited to be the place where horses first stepped on the ground.
“It's really,” he said, “a special honor.”
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