Lakota Riders in Prague

Lakota Riders in Prague
A Photography project in Praha 1, Czech Republic by Ken Marchionno

About this project

In 2004 I was invited by members of the Lakota Indian nation to photograph the O’maka Tokatakiya, Future Generations Ride. It is an annual event, over two weeks in December, following the trail that lead to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. It runs nearly three hundred miles on horseback across the South Dakota winter and was originally a memorial to Chief Big Foot and those who were slain. In 1990, the hundredth anniversary of the massacre, a Wiping of the Tears Ceremony signaled the end of mourning and was a nod toward the future.

The Big Foot Memorial ride ended that year, replaced in 1992 by the current, more youth focused ride. While it is still in many ways in homage to those who lost their lives at Wounded Knee, the ride is also meant to foster cultural pride and leadership qualities in future generations. Along the way, the riders experience some of what their ancestors endured by embodying an intellectual, spiritual, and physical remembrance. Braving the cold (down to –20°F) these kids, some of them barely glimpsing puberty, ride as many as 35 miles in a day.

In contrast to the dominant media imagery, focused mainly on the disheartening aspects of reservation life, this work concentrates on the Lakota’s efforts toward self-empowerment. To that end, in 2006 I started supplying cameras, computers, and wireless internet connection to teens on the ride, and from that date on, teens have worked with me to record what has become a modern tradition.

One of the images from the ride is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center in New York. Another has been published in the latest edition of Robert Hirsch’s Exploring Color Photography (Focal Press 2011). And last year, I was approached by a gallery in the Czech Republic to show this work.

The Czech people have a long-standing affinity with the Lakota people. Dating back more than one hundred years, the Czech fight against assimilation and cultural erasure compares to the American Indian experience.

Each year, thousands of Czech “tribal members” don traditional Native American garb and spend time living in traditional American Indian style. And for the past six years, Otokar Homola has organized a parallel to the Future Generations ride in the Czech Republic to honor the Lakota riders.

While I wanted to take teens from the ride to the opening, I knew I would never be able to afford to take them to the Czech Republic. But when we received an invitation to speak at the US Embassy in Prague, I knew I had to try to raise the funds.

The biggest expense is travel. It will cost nearly $8,000 for the flights, and about $2,000 for hotels. A total of $10,000 will cover the basics; anything extra would help to defray other expenses, like food.


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