The September Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park has come and gone. And as usual my call to Gov. Kristi Noem and to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks has fallen on deaf ears.
The request I made was not that complicated, and the solution to that request should not be that complicated either. I simply asked that the state allow Lakota riders to participate in the Annual Roundup for a couple of reasons. First of all it would help to promote racial harmony in a state where that harmony has often been lacking. Secondly, in a state where one of the chief economic growth factors is tourism, including Lakota riders in the Roundup would increase foreign visitor participation by at least 50 percent. Now the last reason would put tourism dollars into the pockets of South Dakota businesses and into the state coffers.
As a man who has published a newspaper in South Dakota for nearly 40 years, I have become all too familiar with the extreme interest in American Indians by folks from Germany, Italy, France, and Scandinavia, and from many countries of the Far East. There is nothing more they would love to see than Indian warriors riding in their full regalia while rounding up the buffalo their ancestors have hunted for generations and long before there was a Custer County or a state sponsored Buffalo Roundup.
There have been a few far-sighted, non-Indian South Dakotans who clearly see the wisdom in this idea and have stepped forward to help make it happen. But there has also been an ugliness creeping into the discussion that has racist overtones.
Said one objector, “The Indians would never show up for it because it’s too early.” Another, “If the Indians wore their regalia, it would frighten the buffalo into a stampede.” Said another, “This is a cowboy thing, not an Indian thing.” This last comment was made by a Lakota man. Perhaps this Lakota has never been to a rodeo where great Lakota bronc riders like Howard Hunter from Kyle won many a trophy buckle. And some of the top bull riders in the nation have been Navajo and Lakota. There are plenty of ranches on the Indian reservations where Lakota families raise cattle, rope calves and brand them every year. Being Lakota and a cowboy in not an unusual thing.
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In less than 300 years some American Indian tribes became some of the best horseman and light cavalry the world has known. The U.S. Cavalry started using mustangs in order to keep up with the Indians. For more see History 1880-Present Today's Indian Horse.
My point is that there are still great horsemen among the Lakota and for them to be allowed to participate in the Annual Buffalo Roundup will open many doors to peace and reconciliation. South Dakota’s tourism would be the ultimate victor in this endeavor. Long before the first white settler ever set foot in the Northern Plains the Native Americans were sharing the land with their ancestral friend, the buffalo.
The songs by the great Lakota singer and song writer Buddy Red Bow about the buffalo will attest to that.
As a writer all I can do is make a suggestion from my heart and it is up to others and the powers-that-be to down-trod or uphold that suggestion. My suggestion of reconciliation and Native American Day did not fall on deaf ears with Gov. George Mickelson. All it takes is an open heart and an open mind such as his.