This month, two First Nations banded together for the Dakota Healing and Unity Ride in south central Manitoba. Riders from the Dakota Plains First Nation and Dakota Tipi First Nation rode through the countryside from one community to the other on horses loaned to them by the Navajo Nation. Both First Nations communities are located southwest of Portage La Prairie.

Sophia Smoke and her dad, Don Smoke, bring in the Dakota Plains Wahpeton Nation eagle staff. (Photo by Joan West-Smoke)

“We used to be one community at one time, and now we’re pushing forward our reconciliation efforts between the two communities. So, this is a way of coming together in an effort to unite the two communities,” explains Don Smoke, education director at Dakota Plains First Nation. “With COVID happening and the different social illnesses in our communities, we thought it would be a good time to have a Dakota healing awareness ride.”

Smoke, speaking to a local news outlet, made note of some of the ongoing social issues such as addiction and mental illness that have plagued young indigenous people in Canada, and that have worsened since the pandemic began.

Smoke also explains the role that horses play in the Dakota Plains and Dakota Tipi cultures. “Just having horses around individuals can bring healing, they’re natural healers in that sense. Having the horses ride along with us is a prayer in itself,” he says. “So that was why we decided to ride, also to bring awareness to the other communities in the area and to remind people that we’re still here.”