Long-distance horse ride held to honor Potawatomi educator
The life of a Prairie Band Potawatomi woman who was active in the fields of education and counseling is being honored with a long-distance horseback ride that began Monday in Mayetta and is expected to end on Easter Sunday in South Dakota, it has been reported.
But according to Julia Kiyukan, whose deceased mother, Dorothy “Scootie” “Wiche Quah” Kiyukan Ziegler, is the focus of this event, the ride is also about carrying on a tradition of utilizing animals — in this case, horses — in the process of grieving and healing after a death in the family.
“My mother, my stepdad and myself — we are all horse people,” Kiyukan said yesterday during a break in the ride at Sac and Fox Casino. “One thing my mom wanted was for us to carry that tradition on, because the horse life is dying off in this generation… Horses are part of healing. Animals are very spiritual. They’re very close to the spirit world.”
Indeed, horses are playing a key role in the ride of remembrance, which is named, in the Potawatomi language, “Cante Waste Win Wiconi Icimani Ecun” (“The Good-Heart Woman Does Journey Of Life”) that actually began with a Sunday afternoon potluck at the Prairie People’s Park west of Mayetta and took off from Ziegler’s home the next day, making its way north through Holton.
The ride, Kiyukan said, will take its participants north into Nebraska and into South Dakota, where the last stop is planned for Sunday, April 4 in Marty, S.D., where Ziegler is buried.
“This journey that we’re doing is part of a grieving and healing process for myself and my family and my mom’s friends and anybody that my mother touched, no matter how she touched them,” Kiyukan said.
During her life, Ziegler served as an educator who was named the National Indian Educator and the South Dakota Indian Educator of the Year. In 1994, the governor of South Dakota proclaimed Oct. 28 as “Dorothy Kiyukan Day” in South Dakota.
Ziegler also worked in drug and alcohol counseling and was well-known for her work in that field, Kiyukan said. In July of 2015, she was appointed to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Gaming Commission.
“She was a giant,” Kiyukan said of her mother. “You get those human giants in the world every now and then, and they are your special ones… There’s always going to be someone who will want to follow those giants.”
Ziegler also fought cancer in the last years of her life, starting with breast cancer and then liver cancer, Kiyukan said. She died Thursday, Jan. 7 at her home near Mayetta after battling liver cancer for about six years.
Tom Ziegler, Ziegler’s husband and Kiyukan’s stepfather, and Kiyukan had thought about making the trip on horseback from Mayetta to her mother’s gravesite in South Dakota a year after her death. But as Kiyukan noted, the grieving process prompted them to start their journey sooner than that.
“My stepdad and I constantly caught ourselves crying, no matter what we were doing,” Kiyukan said. “And then one day, he just looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to go jump on the horse and go up to South Dakota.’ And I said, ‘All right, I’ll follow you to make sure you’re OK.’”
Word of the long-distance ride spread among the Zieglers’ family and friends, and when the journey began on Monday morning, a handful of riders had joined Kiyukan and her stepfather on their way north. By the time they took a break for the night at Sac and Fox, the riders had logged about 32 miles.
(For more on this story, log in to your holtonrecorder.net account, click on “E-Editions” and select the March 24, 2021 edition.)