Buffalo Statue at Reconciliation Park in Mankato, MN
Reconciliation Park - Mankato, MN

Todd Papabear Finney is setting off on a great adventure! For the first time, he’s joining the Dakota 38+2, 330 mile horseback ride from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato.

(NOTE: MankatoLIFE is planning on being in daily communication with Finney throughout the ride and will post his updates in another story on this site.)

Finney is a pastor and musician with a heart overflowing with a desire for reconciliation – between men and God but also, very much, between men and men. He’s also full-blood Dakota but with a name like Finney, people often wonder if there’s a back story.

“I was smuggled off the reservation as a baby and adopted into a Scotch-Irish family,” Finney explains. “A lot of traditional Indians were afraid that they were going to be killed. And not only afraid that they were going to be killed but afraid their children were going to be killed. And so there were children who were smuggled off the reservation so the bloodline would survive. I’m one of those children.”

Family Connections

As an adult, Finney has reconnected with his blood family. Of particular consequence is his relationship with his Aunt, Alberta Iron Cloud Miller. Alberta is the wife of Jim Miller, whose 2005 dream was the catalyst for the first Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride.

Forgive Everyone Everything

In early 2005, Miller, a Native spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran had a dream. In it he was riding on horseback through South Dakota. At the end of his ride he arrived at a riverbank just in time to see 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged.

At the time, Miller knew nothing of the largest mass execution in United States history. 38 Dakota men were hanged at Mankato on December 26th, 1862 after the short Dakota War earlier that year. The dream impressed him deeply and he was moved to action.

After the 1862 conflict there was a backlash against Native peoples resulting in their expulsion from Minnesota. Immediately following the hangings the majority of the Dakota people in Minnesota were force-marched to a reservation in South Dakota. The suffering was great and many died. Miller, as a result of his dream, purposed to ride the same route on horseback in the same winter conditions as a way to bring healing.

In the 2012 documentary about Miller’s dream and now annual rides, Dakota 38, he is clearly shown to be a deeply caring person who wants healing for his extended family and reconciliation with all people. In the film, he says, “I love you” so many times its impossible to miss his motivation.

The motto of the ride Miller inspired has become, “Forgive Everyone Everything.”

Getting Involved

So how did Finney get signed up to ride this year? “My mouth is quicker than my head,” he explains. “I was visiting with my Aunty, Alberta Miller, and I suggested that maybe I should join the ride this year. ‘You should! You should!’ she said. All of a sudden out of my mouth came, ‘OK, I will.’ I immediately wondered what I had gotten myself into.”

But there were earlier events that had prepared him.

One Trip to Mankato

Early on December 26th, 2012, Finney recalls, “The Holy Ghost woke me up and said ‘I want you to drive to Mankato. There’s something I want you to see there.'” So Finney and his twelve-year-old son, Andre, set out for Mankato.

After reconnecting with his family, Finney says he, “heard a lot of stories that weren’t in history books. I realized that if I was going to take Andre to Mankato I was going to have to tell him those stories. In the car I said, ‘Andre, I’m going to have to tell you things that my elders told me for you to understand what’s going on.’

“I had a hard time fathoming the stories as an adult, and here I was going to have to relay them to my twelve-year-old son because in less than two hours he’s going to be faced with the reality of what happened.”

Traffic Jam

Driving south on 169 they reached St. Peter and a traffic jam. “In addition to the group of riders from South Dakota there is also a group of runners from Fort Snelling that start at midnight on Christmas. The runners run through the night in a relay to Mankato. We had caught up with the them.

“As we waited in traffic, I happened to look over at Andre and I realized he had tears streaming down his face. I said, ‘Andre, what’s wrong?’ He said, ‘Dad, look, look!’ I didn’t see anything. ‘No Dad, look! Really look!’

“I started looking in the cars, at the people in the cars. And just as I understood what he saw, he said, ‘Dad, they all look like us!'”

He continued, “We went and we saw the riders come in and realized it was the 150th anniversary and got to hear the governor repeal a law that said it was legal to kill Dakota men if they were off the reservation. So until December 26th, 2012 that law was still on the books. On the same day my son learned about this law he got to hear it repealed. That was a great experience.”

Reconciliation

Bench at Reconciliation Park, Mankato, MN
Bench at Reconciliation Park, Mankato, MN

Because of his Christian upbringing in a Caucasian family, Finney is in a unique position to facilitate reconciliation between First Nations people and Whites. For example, when New Creation Outreach Church in North Mankato, wanted to honor the riders with a dinner they were able to use Finney and his wife Kely as a bridge.

Talking with him, it’s clear Finney has a heart of love for the Dakota people and for his Caucasian friends. He’s a perfect model of reconciliation and, “Forgive Everyone Everything.”

Finally, how does one keep warm when riding 330 miles on horseback through the prairie of South Dakota and Minnesota? “Lots of layers.”, he answered, “Carhartt gear, face masks, gloves. The outreach that I run is most active in January, February, and March so I’m used to being outside for long periods of time in the cold.”

The ride begins Sunday, December 10th and ends at Reconciliation Park in Mankato at 10:00 am on Tuesday, December 26th.

2012 Movie, Dakota 38, on Youtube.com

Don Lipps
is a long-time resident of Mankato and North Mankato. He's been doing web development almost as long as there has been a web. He and his wife Tina have 5 grown boys and two daughters-in-law.