Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Tipi Raisers ride again


August 2, 2018

Tonia Copeland/Western Nebraska Observer

Riders begin on Friday morning between Dix and Potter, making their way to Sidney, where a community meal awaits, before continuing on to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The group expects to ride onto the reservation during the Aug. 4 PowWow.

As sketchy weather closed in a group of more than 20 riders on horseback, The Tipi Raisers, were welcomed to the fairgrounds in Kimball as they sought last-minute refuge last Thursday.

"We weren't really planning on staying here tonight," Executive Director Dave Ventimiglia said. They stopped in Bushnell for a break and planned to ride through Kimball and stay the night near Dix.

On this, the fourth annual Tipi Raisers ride, Ventimiglia doubled the number of riders and doubled the need for suitable accommodations. He offered thanks to the community and to Ag Society leader Doug Lukassen for the warm welcome just days before the annual county fair.

"We have been a little surprised, because last year we had a dozen or so," Ventimiglia said. "We are really happy. Some day I want to ride through Kimball with 300 riders."

First time riders Donna and Lance from Cheyenne, spent their 27th anniversary riding and helping the group.

"You have people from everywhere and different backgrounds, you have the aspect of the horses," Donna said. "You have all these different dynamics, but everyone is working toward one goal. It is just a lot of fun."

Riders joined from Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and native riders from Pine Ridge to name just a few.

Though many newcomers joined the group this year, some riders were more familiar with the 400 mile trek. Susie, a rider from Georgia, rode last year and convinced some friends from the University of Georgia to join her.

"The church I go to are now sending a group every year to Pine Ridge," Susie said. "This is a great way to help and maintain a relationship."

She added that she feels called to help families obtain their most basic need – shelter from the elements as well.

Ventimiglia's son, 15-year-old Adam, is on his third ride and will travel the entire distance again this year. He said that the additional riders require increased organization.

"With experience you just get better. As more people start flowing in, you have more people to share the work with," Adam said. "With more people, it also becomes more complicated and you kind of lose that sense of really tight, core family. You get that same feeling over the right amount of time, but you definitely have to work on making those relationships work."

Bill Black, a professor at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, joined the riders this year and he is thrilled with the impact a large group makes.

The chaos of the first two days surprised Black.

"We were getting honked at in Denver and Ft. Collins, and I think that is the point," Black said. "I am of an age of the Civil Rights movement and the point was to get in people's way and to be an inconvenience so people will wake up and see what the cause is."

As the riders moved further away from cities, the chaos subsided and Black could concentrate more fully on the reason to ride.

That reason – the Bent family's home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The Bent family, Waylon, his wife, Priscilla, and their four children, joined the ride again this year as their home is nearing completion little by little.

The family of six currently lives in a 25 foot camper trailer on the Pine Ridge reservation. Ventimiglia is working with them and others to renovate Waylon's grandmother's home for them.

Waylon, from the Ogallala on the Pine Ridge reservation, is making his third ride this year.

After his first ride, Ventimiglia helped Waylon's family with firewood, clothes, Christmas gifts and other basic necessities.

"In return, as Lakota tradition goes, I help in any way that I can," Waylon said. "Lakota tradition says to help one another but it doesn't say to help one another for money."

Just as last year, the Tipi Raisers are rebuilding his grandmother's home for Waylon's family and more materials are needed, part of which will be purchased with funds raised from this year's ride.

"We have poured his foundation, put in his floor and the exterior and interior walls are up," Ventimiglia said. "We've got to put the roof up next, electricity, plumbing and that sort of thing. It is slow. That year has taken us a year and a half – we are a tiny non-profit."

In addition to raising funds to rebuild homes on the reservation, Ventimiglia began the ride, which originates in Colorado, to educate others of the poverty, homelessness and heartbreak suffered by Native Americans on the reservation.

Though the need is great, the spirit of the riders is greater and Terry Spoon Hunter, an Arapahoe from Wind River who lives at Pine Ridge, joins Ventimiglia to ensure each rider is connected with others and with the mission.

"This year there are more people, so there are more differing beliefs. We are not trying to change anybody's beliefs, we are trying to make stronger connections through the prayers and the songs," Spoon Hunter said. "We are all different, but in many ways we are the same and here we move as one. We are trying to make an impact on the community – every community we ride into."

Spoon Hunter can often be seen performing at PowWows. He performs for the riders and the horses throughout the ride, as well, bringing a sense of peace and belonging to the group.

"The singing and drumming wakes their spirits and makes them stronger," Spoon Hunter said.

Tonia Copeland/Western Nebraska Observer

The Bent family, from left, Waylon Jr., Thomas, Levi, Waylon Sr., Priscilla and Autumn stand ready to ride after breaking down camp in Kimball.

Last year, on his first ride, Terry Spoon Hunter, a professional singer and drummer, spoke of uniting to build a family, then uniting to build a community. This year, with the ride having doubled in size, he speaks of uniting the universe.

"This is real and the connection from all the races is real. We have the four colors of man riding, the white man, the black man, the red man and the yellow man," he said. "In this universe, we want our children and grandchildren to live and we want your children and grandchildren to live. We want to respect life, cherish life, to build on it."

The Tipi Raisers, a registered 501(c)(3) organization accepts tax-deductible donations to further their purpose – to bring the wisdom, culture and traditions of the Lakota people to modern day America while working to alleviate the conditions of poverty and hopelessness on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Visit the website at http://www.TheTipiRaisers.org to learn more or make a tax-deductible donation.


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