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'Remember that resiliency': 27th annual Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run concludes in Busby

Runners tackling the final hill on their 5-day run
Posted at 10:49 PM, Jan 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-16 11:06:05-05

BUSBY — Youth runners crossed the finish line on Saturday after a five-day journey from Fort Robinson, Nebraska to Busby, Montana.

67 youth runners participated in this year's Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run. The run is organized by Yellow Bird Life Center, and one of the chairwomen, Micah Highwalking, explained her journey from runner to organizer.

Highwalking has been involved with the run for around nine to ten years and said it is important for both the youth and the organizers.

“It’s very very important. One of the things that we do while we’re on the run is help cultivate an environment that our kids can learn and can feel safe in. Because they feel safe and everything is taken care of, they’re able to unlock that reconnection with their spirit and their ancestors,” Highwalking said on Saturday. “We teach them about their culture, the history, the language, and who we are as the Cheyenne people and how resilient we are, but also how they can reconnect. How they can go back to taking care of their spirit and taking care of their mental health. And then also letting them know that all of us together are there for them even outside of the run.”

Highwalking explained some of the history behind the run.

“Fort Robinson was a time when we were trying to be taken to Indian territory in Oklahoma. They got us as far as Fort Robinson in Nebraska. From there, they were starving us out because we wouldn’t go on. And the Chiefs made the decision that we’re going to go home," Highwalking said. “From there they made the decision at about 10:30 at night to break out. They had women, children, elders, warriors, everybody. A lot of them were killed at the door as soon as it opened, and then from there, they ran. They literally ran for their lives. And they came back to what is our homeland today."

In 1878, the U.S. Army held the Cheyenne people captive. Then in January of 1879, confined them to barracks without food or water at Fort Robinson, according to Legends of America.

This run is a time for many to reconnect— and Highwalking said many memories are made along the way.

“There’s definitely fun memories of the drivers (and) the kids, but also a lot of touching memories of why they’re on the run too. Across Indian Country, alcohol abuse, drugs, even mental health has been an issue," Highwalking said. "Suicide rates are very high, and so when the kids come on, we hear those stories. The homes they may come from. But, along with those stories, they’re still here. Their families are still here."

Participants say they are grateful for the experiences.

“I’ve been on this run for almost seven years now, this will be my seventh,” said Mario Spotted Elk Jr. Day on Saturday. “In my youth days, I didn’t really understand what half of this meant. But growing up, I’m able to understand more of the ways, more of our traditions, and more of what we went through."

Spotted Elk Jr. Day said he has learned a lot from the seven runs he has participated in.

“Most importantly would be the chance to understand what my people went through, the challenges they had to go through and understand that my life struggles and everything I’ve been through doesn’t compare to what my ancestors had to go through,” Spotted Elk Jr. Day said. “The run is not only great, but it means a lot to me as a Native American, as a Cheyenne, to know that my people can come together like this and accomplish something so great that my ancestors did many years ago."

Jared Killsback has been around the run for five years but participated for the first time this year.

“We’d always come here to pray, just try to get through some stuff, you know?” Killsback said on Saturday. “(I came) to learn a little more about what I know about my tribe and the past and just to represent my family, my grandpa, all of my elders I grew up with and have known."

Killsback said his reasons for running this year vary.

“My grandpa Phillip wanted me to run this year, and I wanted to run for some reasons too," Killsback said. "Just to pray for all my people that helped me, my mom, dad, uncles, aunties.”

Others are return-runners like Spotted Elk Jr. Day. Leila Knowshisgun finished her second run on Saturday.

“I think it’s a very good environment and I just like it, it’s a good run,” Knowshisgun said on Saturday. “(It's taught me) not to give up, and to keep moving forward. It’s what my ancestors went through, I just run for them."

And like Highwalking, some were once runners and have gone on to be involved in other ways. Tonielle Shoulderblade has been participating for around 10-12 years.

“I just do it for the youth. I’ve been where they were, in their spot exactly, and now I’m a chaperone so I kind of moved up. They just inspire me, and that’s why I come back every year,” Shoulderblade said on Saturday. "You just kind of feel what our ancestors went through. It’s very emotional.”

Highwalking said this run serves as a reminder of the history of the Cheyenne people.

“The resilience is built within their blood. It’s in their blood. And that’s what we remind them of, and also try and keep them reconnected," Highwalking said. "So that when we’re not by their side, or their friends are not by their side on this run, that they remember those stories. They remember that resiliency and that strength and that power and they draw from it to continue on."

To learn more about the run or Yellow Bird Life Center, please click here.

“Why I do it is because I was one of those kids wanting and searching for a reconnection to our land, to my ancestors," Highwalking said. "I’m definitely very grateful for that reconnection, and that there is an environment for us and for everyone standing behind me and many more for generations. I hope to have my kids out here one day, and running and learning the language as well."