‘Our run is our prayer for the people’

A runner from the Northern Cheyenne tribe from Lame Deer, Mont. carries the tribal flag as she makes her way along St. Onge Road towards Belle Fourche during this year’s Fort Robinson Breakout Spiritual Run. Pioneer photo by Alex Portal

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SPEARFISH — Every January for over two decades, young members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, from Lame Deer, Mont., have undertaken a 400-mile journey by foot from Nebraska to Montana to commemorate their ancestor’s attempted escape from captivity.

On Jan. 9, 1879, a group of Northern Cheyenne broke free from their imprisonment at Fort Robinson, Neb., and attempted to brave the harsh winter conditions and travel more than 400-miles to their ancestral lands in the Powder River area of Montana.

Malnourished and weak from their internment at the fort, most of the group was killed before they reached the exit. Many who did escape, were hunted down and executed upon being caught. However some were able to evade calvary capture, and make it back to their home.

The “Fort Robinson Breakout Spiritual Run” was started by Lynette Two Bulls and her husband Phillip Whiteman in 1996 as a way to keep the memory and indomitable spirit of those brave souls alive, by connecting that history to the young members of the tribe.

“It’s not about re-traumatizing our kids, but it’s about having them connect to what their ancestors did,” Two Bulls explained during a past year’s event. “All along the way we have speakers and people that just uplift and empower these kids.”

Young members of the tribe volunteer to travel from their home in Lame Deer, Mont., to Ft. Robinson in Crawford, Neb. The youngsters then start off on the 400-mile run back to their home. Spotter vehicles follow the runners, who are encouraged to take frequent breaks so as not to over-exert themselves. The run lasts for five days, stopping each night at an appointed destination. Normally the evenings are filled with prayer ceremonies where members of each community are able to attend and here the story and participate in honoring the tribe’s ancestors. According to the breakout run’s website; however, this year special considerations had to be made due to COVID-19 concerns. “Every year, the Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run enjoys the support of communities along our journey. As always, we welcome your prayers, your encouragement, and support knowing that together we must maintain high safety standards to keep our communities healthy from further spread of COVID-19,” the website reads.

“We’re spirits having a human experience,” Whiteman said during a prayer at a previous ceremony. “That’s what this run is about; it’s about putting one foot in front of the other, learning to stand up, pick up that staff and flag, and continue to move forward and not to get stagnant in mourning or grieving.”

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