Despite the loss of its key leader earlier this year, a group of adults and young people will make the arduous 6-day journey from Bridger, South Dakota to the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre on the annual Wounded Knee Memorial Ride Dec. 22-29.
Pastor Byron Buffalo, a full-blooded Lakota who was also raised Christian in the Congregational Church (later becoming UCC), began a horse riding ministry for young people because he knew the power horses had to heal. Knowing personally the impact of deep poverty, widespread drug and alcohol addiction and extraordinarily high suicide rates resulting from generations of genocide and oppression, Byron Buffalo made his hope-filled vision of this horse ministry into a reality, bringing young people back into themselves and their Lakota heritage through the traditional practice of horse riding.
He began working with just one or two young people and quickly saw the incredible impact it had on their lives. Soon there were 20 young people who were attending Sunday worship at Bridger UCC and then staying to ride horses in the afternoon. Most other days of the week, they rode as well. Lives were transformed.
“This horse named Ghost relates to me,” said Emily Oldhorn, one of the youth participants. “Ghost gives me something to look forward to. I’m thankful to Byron Buffalo. He brought [me back] together with the Creator.”
Then the unthinkable happened. In July, Byron Buffalo died of a sudden heart attack while he was preparing for a ride with his young people. The devastating loss have left them deeply grieved, especially his widow and ministry partner, Toni Buffalo. But they are resolved to continue this life-changing ministry and the annual Wounded Knee ride.
“His heart was in that ministry,” said Toni Buffalo.
Two or three adults and young people, including Buffalo’s son-in-law Ruben Washburn, are shouldering the work once undertaken by Buffalo alone including the expenses for feeding and caring for the horses. The group is in the early stages of forming a formal leadership structure and are considering incorporating as a non-profit.
The group will leave Bridger on Dec. 22 to embark on the Wounded Knee Memorial Ride, which commemorates the 1890 massacre of Native people at the hands of the U.S. Government. The ride, though arduous in the December cold and snow for both horses and riders, reconnects participants to themselves and their heritage.
You may also pray in the form of financial support given to feed and care for the horses that are crucial to this ministry. Send checks marked “Hay for Horses” in the care of the South Dakota Conference UCC, 5609 Douglas Ave., Des Moines, IA 50310.