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Native American Teens and Tradition


Horses have long been important to the Native American people. In 2010, we visited a riding program that is re-introducing young people to a part of their culture that has been lost in today's world. 

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(Locator: Spirit Lake Nation, North Dakota)

The Dakota Tribe has lived on the plains of North Dakota for almost 150 years. Young people here are carrying on a tradition of their ancestors. Neal Whitmer leads lessons in horseback riding.

Neal Whitmer: "Just walk her around slowly, slow and easy..."

Neal Whitmer, Equine Diversion Program: "Some of the greatest horsemen who ever came in the world came from the Sioux Nation and sadly, a lot of that's been lost."

The Equine Diversion Program gives Native American teens opportunities most have never had.

Noah Herman, Teen: "Is the horse gonna fall on me? Is it gonna buck? You never know when things are gonna happen."

Justin Azure, Teen: "We learn to saddle horses, brush, pick hooves."

(Missionary to teen on horse) "Need some help with your stirrups? They're just too long. I can help you."

"Sunka wakan ah-ku" means "bring back the horses." It started as an intervention for troubled youth - but now is available to all teens. Twenty are chosen each summer for a wellness ride.

Justin Azure: "It's fun meeting new kids, riding new horses."

Noah Herman: "It's beautiful, all the colors in the hills, seeing the sunrise. I just had a lot of time to think."

Kids gain confidence from working with the horses.

Neal Whitmer: "We've seen their grades improve. We've seen their behaviors improve."

The program depends on partners like the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church, which maintains camp facilities on the reservation. Donations make a difference.

(Teen talks about horse) "He was donated to us from Idaho, the horse program. So he made a long trip coming out to high country, to the flats."

(Missionary talks about horse) "An FBI agent actually donated Frosty to the program what, 3 , 4 years ago? 3 years ago?"

(Ride leader) "Ready to roll?"

United Methodist missionary Mike Flowers says the ride has a spiritual side too.

Mike Flowers, United Methodist Dakotas Conference: "They're riding through the reservation, through all four districts and praying that they'll be healthy and they'll make the right decisions."

Noah Herman: "If you like to ride horses and you like to have a good time, this program's for you."


For more information, visit the website.

You can make donations by contacting the Dakotas Conference at 605-996-6552. You can make a donation to the Spirit Lake Ministry Center.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458.

This story was first published on Nov. 17, 2010.