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  • LISA YANKTON

Cantu Sichun



Leaving Saint Paul

Early hours wihinape sni

Two Dakota winyan and a child

Traveling across long dark prairie roads

Warmth inside while viewing a cold flat landscape of whiteness

Reflection of stars and waning moon of popping trees cankapopa wi

Passing occasional farms and isolated homes duskily lit

Where wasicu were tucked snugly under warm colored quilts


In the dark they first met

Sisters under starlight

As golden sun rays touched faces

Revealing dark hair, dark eyes sparkling

Discussion of hearts light and hearts heavy

Backseat child wrapped in dreams

To honor ancestors, to follow the tracks, to sacrifice

Dakota Memorial Ride 38+2, canku sichun


In Morton they arrive hours later to bring food

Dakota winyan ready to prepare a hot early breakfast feast

A large-hearted but misguided woman

Tells someone not to serve the food they brought

Lateral trauma of the people

Dakota winyan avails to her a family teaching

Food is a sacred gift to be shared

Oyate wica wotapi


In a gym the riders line up: men, women, children, visitors

To honor the ancestors, to feed them

Little girls help, happily toast and butter

Oatmeal, eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy, fried potatoes

Juice, milk, cowboy coffee

Elders sit in a circle, ancient teachings

New friends, old friends, friends from afar

To renew and to heal, icantewaste


Frosty morning in his grey pickup truck,

Kind-faced Dakota rider brings them to a corral

To dozens of curious four-leggeds

Equine encircle Dakota winyan and girls

Paint horses, quarter horses, Appaloosas, palominos

Vigorous horses of the four colors, the rider carries a bag of treats

Sunkawakan yankapi, joyous little girls climb on leather saddles to ride

With brown and white dancing feather on horse’s bridle wambi wiyaka

kin waci


Zenith sun wiyotaahaa wacipi,

Gym resounds earth drum heartbeats wicasa dowanpi

Three visiting chiefs in headdresses speak wisdom yamni wiscasta itacan

wapaha tun

Eagle staffs, graceful male and female dancers, beautiful colors ohomni

Dakota winyan omniciye gather and visit,

Plans to meet next time in a cabin by Spirit Lake

Some in beautiful regalia, agilely joining the dance

Stop to visit with friends, movement of vibrant moccasins


To journey before sunset the Dakota winyan and child depart early

Imnajaskadan ehaankipi

And early next morning as Dakota riders and horses leave for Mah-Ka-To,

Sunkawakan yankapi

Ancestor spirits breathe a gift of happiness

Love and peace fill hearts to those who sacrifice

Morning under a brilliant rainbow encasing sunrise, parhelion the blessing

Wiacheti ici



Poem: LISA YANKTON, a member of the Spirit Lake Dakota, is a community organizer, educator, writer, and mother. At night, she can be found stargazing. Instead of wishing on a star, she wishes she knew their names. Her community activities include serving as a juror for the Saint Paul Sidewalk Poetry Contest, blogging for the Minnesota Book Awards, teaching at Minneapolis

Community and Technical College, coordinating the Dakota Nationwide Conference, leading the Brooklyn Historical Society, and serving on The Circle newspaper board. During the Dakota War of 1862, her grandmother fled from Minnesota to North Dakota.


Art: NARATE KEYS, The Sun's Reflector, Painting. Narate is a Cambodian American poet and spoken word artist living in Saint Paul. She has self-published The Changes . . . Immigration Footprints of Our Journey and The Good Life and co-authored Planting SEADs: Southeast Asian Diaspora Stories. Keys’ family lived through the Khmer Rouge genocide; she was born in a Thailand refugee camp. Through poetry, Keys has found love, appreciation, and encouragement. Keys performs her poems at various Minnesota venues, including the Loft Literary Center, Springboard for the Arts, Dragon Festival, and In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre’s MayDay Festival. Learn more at NarateKeys.com.



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