Thursday, February 22, 2018

Geofredo Littlebird, a Northern Cheyenne Sun Dance priest, marches with Pamela Sooktis from Little Bighorn Battlefield in Crow Agency toward Busby on Friday morning. They marched to fight a variety of problems on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations including methamphetamine use, and violent crime such as domestic abuse and homicide.Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribal members including Lodge Grass community organizer BethYana Pease (third from the left) march together with national flags from Busby to Lame Deer on Saturday afternoon.

Unity Prayer Walk

Crow, Northern Cheyenne join in 40-mile trek across their reservations
It was 7 a.m. on Friday when Northern Cheyenne tribal members Geofredo Littlebird and Pamela Sooktis hit the road to begin a 40-plus mile walk from Little Bighorn Battlefield in Crow Agency to Little Wolf Capitol Building in Lame Deer. In addition to spanning more than 40 miles, the journey – called the Unity Prayer Walk – also traversed both the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.
They marched against methamphetamine, a drug both of them believed to be the root cause of problems such as poverty and violent crime on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. 
Sooktis – an aunt of the late Hanna Harris of Lame Deer, 21, who was killed in July 2013 – said they also marched for murdered and missing women on the reservations. Littlebird happened to be Harris’ grandfather.
“Hanna’s walking with us today, too,” Sootkis said.
Accompanied by several cars for protection and water support, Littlebird and Sootkis were the only two walkers at the start – not counting those outside the physical plane of existence. Littlebird held the Northern Cheyenne’s Morning Star flag while Sooktis, a female, held the tribal staff.
“They always say, out of respect to the staff, women aren’t allowed to carry it,” said Littlebird, a Sun Dance priest. “But there are no [other] men here.”
According to Littlebird, the Prayer Walk was organized to help bring the Crow and Northern Cheyenne together, encourage law enforcement transparency in investigations and push to stop the use of meth on the reservations. 
Littlebird and Sooktis are recovering addicts, and want Crow tribal members to also turn away from the cycle of drug use.
“They’re not alone in the fight against this meth; there are problems on our reservation, too,” Littlebird said. “We want to work together. We want to get to the problem. We want to communicate with one another again.”
After a one-night stopover in Busby, they continued toward Lame Deer on Saturday, this time accompanied by a small contingent of fellow cars and marchers they picked up along the way. Holding the Crow flag was BethYana Pease, a community organizer from Lodge Grass whose own town was hit Aug. 4 by a triple homicide related to meth and gang activity.
Also present were members of the Elkhorn Scrapers - a Northern Cheyenne warrior society - including Headsman Tim Lamewoman Sr., who drove a car that rattled with the hum of a portable generator. He took issue with U.S. President Donald Trump’s call to cut funding for programs regarding Native American health care and housing.
“We are telling the Trump Administration that he should leave our people’s budgets alone,” Lamewoman said. “We have treaty rights with this country; we have treaty rights that tell us that, as long as the rivers flow and the grass grows, that our access to better health care and education will always be available to us.” 
Pease was happy to see the Crow and Northern Cheyenne, who historically battled one another, come together for the purpose of bettering each other’s communities. Like Littlebird and Sootkis, Pease also has recovered from meth addiction.
“We’re facing the same problems,” she said. “When it comes down to it, we’re all Indians, we’re all brown and we’re all people.”
The Crow and Northern Cheyenne often “turn a blind eye” to their issues, she continued, adding that she hopes they get the following message: “You guys need to open your eyes.”
During the march, Pease noted that brothers Leroy and Pius TakesHorse – currently running as legislators for the Mighty Few District in Wyola – showed up to carry the flag for several miles before giving it to her. Their joint campaign’s focuses, according to a Sunday Facebook post by Leroy, include “unity” and “breaking barriers and building for the future.”