In early April 2013, I travelled to South Dakota to visit with Chief David Bald Eagle, Chief of the Minikoju Band of the Cheyenne River Tribe Lakota Indians and the First Chief of the United Indigenous Nations of The Americas. We were warmly welcomed into his home surrounded by his family and his herd of 45 or so horses.
We made meals, laughed and cried as he told stories for days between long silences, tears, and laughter. Raised by his grandfather, Chief White Bull, who fought with Crazy Horse at the battle of Little Big Horn, he is a traditionalist and expresses a deep reverence for the horses, all wildlife, and the land we all share. In his lifetime he has been a rodeo performer, an accomplished actor, and served in the U.S. Army. He prefers to hear about the weather from the coyotes, not the weather channel, and enjoys the comings and goings of his family.
We talked about the recent campaigning from pro-horse slaughter advocates and specifically those from native American tribes to establish horse slaughter facilities on tribal lands.
He said a prayer for the horses in Lakota and, with tears in his eyes, he asked that the indigenous peoples wake up and not to lose their Way of Life, which is synonymous with Lakota religion or spirituality. On his 94th birthday, he narrated the following letter:
To Members of Congress, all Indigenous Nations of the Americas and the American People,
I am Chief David Bald Eagle. I have lived 94 years and hold the titles of Chief of the Minikoju Band of the Cheyenne River Tribe Lakota Indians. Also, I am the First Chief of the United Indigenous Nations of The Americas.
The Lakota are known as The Horse People. The Lakota way of life lives in deep respect and harmony with nature. The Traditional Government is the original Sovereign government. Our law is not man made, it is the law of nature, and so we live in harmony with nature. This includes the wildlife and the animals that would be our food. We perform ceremonies to pray for them before a hunt. When we hunt, we only kill what we need and use every part of the animal. We do not waste; we do not take this life for granted. We do not use poisons or hunt them with ATVs, or helicopters.
We only eat the meat of animals that are vegetarian. All except the horse. We have always held a special feeling for the horse. The horse is sacred to our people. We have never eaten the horse. In Lakota, the horse is called Sunka Wakan. Sunka means dog, Wakan means Sacred or holy, “Sacred dog.”
The horse did not abandon us in Little Big Horn. The Horse did not abandon the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes in the Trails of Tears. The horse did not abandon us in our hunting. We will not abandon the horse now.
We hold great respect for the wild horses today. Like the Native American people, they have been persecuted for hundreds of years, and yet, like our people, the wild horses, the wolves and the Buffalo have survived against all odds, political, environmental and social.
The Horse, like the Buffalo and the wolf are hunted and pushed off the land by the livestock industry because they do not profit from them. The sheep and cattle have caused so much damage and outnumber the horse herds in the millions, and yet the horse is blamed for damaging the lands. This is a lie.
We have always lived with the horses and the buffalo. They do not pull the grasses out by the roots like the cattle and sheep. It is the fences from the cattle ranching that have caused problems with the wild horse herds and all wildlife. We believe all wildlife; the wild horses, buffalo, deer, antelope, elk should range free without corrals or boundaries. The wolves, lions, bears and other predators of the Americas control each other. This is natural law. But humans have destroyed that balance. It is time for us to do the right thing.
Bit by bit we can restore the land, the water, the air and the wildlife including
our sacred horse. We can restore our way of life.
The horse has and always will be a sacred animal to the Traditional Lakota people. We cannot abuse him or kill him for human consumption. In fact the Lakota people themselves know that to do so will bring misfortune and even death to anyone who does.
In these times we need the Native American people to wake up. It is easy to be misled by money, greed and false power. The Native American people are easily influenced as they have strayed from our traditional values and Way of Life.
If the Native American people allow the horse slaughterhouses on Indian lands, it opens the door for Government and other special interest groups to control our lands and our way of life.
We condemn the slaughter of horses and the plans to create horse slaughterhouses on Indian Lands.
It is a slap in the face, an insult to our people, our lands, and our way of life.
Mitakuye Oyasin (All my relations),
—Chief David Bald Eagle
Chief of the Minikoju Band of the Cheyenne River Tribe Lakota Indians
First Chief of the United Indigenous Nations of The Americas