NEW TOWN A group of riders retracing the historic Mandan Trail between Canada and the U.S. reached New Town, their final destination earlier this week.
The Sitting Eagles Unity Ride commemorates the defense of the Mandan Trail from bandits during the War of 1812.
During the War of 1812 the Sitting Eagles were diplomats selected by their tribes to take care of difficulties, in particular, bandits, who were causing problems on this international trade route.
Gus Higheagle, of Pipestone, Man., wearing his Dakota warbonnet, stands at the entrance of the main lodge in the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation’s Earth Lodge Village west of New Town. Higheagle is part of the Sitting Eagles Unity Ride, a ride to commemorate the defense of the Mandan Trail from bandits during the War of 1812. The Earth Lodge Village was the riders’ final destination.
The Sitting Eagles mainly represented seven tribes: the Dakota, Ojibway, Chippewa, Cree, Mandan, Hidatsa and Assiniboine tribes.
The 2012 ride started with 15 horseback riders at Coulter Park, Man. Other riders joined in along the way. The approximately 240-mile route included the International Peace Garden on the U.S. and Canada border north of Dunseith.
Gus Higheagle, a spokesman for the riders from Pipestone, a community in southwestern Manitoba, and north of Westhope, said the ride is about "our seven nations working together 200 years ago."
Riders on the Sitting Eagles Unity Ride carried a universal staff with eagle feathers representing each of the tribes.
Higheagle, a member of the Dakota and spokesman for the ride, said the grassroots leaders of the ride must be drug and alcohol free, a fluent speaker of their tribal language. and able to ride horseback. He said it's also good if they have a horse.
Along with commemorating history, Higheagle said it is very important for young people to learn their tribe's language. "Our people without the language, they are no longer a nation," he said
Explaining what happened 200 years ago when the Sitting Eagle group rode the Mandan Trail, Higheagle said, "In 1812, our young people were down in the Detroit area where the British were fighting with the Americans. Our people Dakota people and all the seven nations were involved. The young warriors were all down there."
"The bandits were creating a lot of problem on the Mandan Trail. Some of them call (it) the Assiniboine Trail and Mandan Trail.
"Anyway, the bandits were creating a lot of problems killing our people young and old so this is what you call intertribal policing," Higheagle said.
During the summer of 1812, the Sitting Eagles called 1,400 warriors together from their member nations who gathered at Turtle Mountain in Manitoba and, at the request of the Three Affiliated Tribes, marched along the Mandan Trail to drive away the bandits, according to research done by James A.M. Ritchie, of Boissevain, Man., for Higheagle.
"Many turned back over the weeks of the march, but at least a few hundred led by the senior ambassador Many Sitting Eagles, made the complete journey and were feasted by the Mandans before making the return trip," Ritchie reported.
Commemorating a feast held 200 years ago, a farewell feast hosted by the Three Affiliated Tribes was held Wednesday afternoon at the Earth Lodge Village west of New Town.
Leo Cummings, coordinator on Fort Berthold Reservation for the Sitting Eagle Unity Ride, said the group made the decision Wednesday that they will make plans to hold these rides for the next three years.
Cummings, co-founder of the Healing Horse Program on Fort Berthold Reservation, said he rode about 150 miles of the route. He said the experience "was interesting."
Higheagle's wife, Emily, accompanied the group as driver and cook.
Higheagle said he hopes to get more people involved in horseback riding and that more people will take part in the ride.