Indigenous Rights, Horses, and Family
NEW JERSEY REVOLUTIONARY RADIO WELCOMES LEW HASTINGS!
Welcome one and all, to a heartwarming edition of Wine, Women, and Revolution! We’re coming at you from New Jersey Revolution Radio, New Jersey’s one and only socialist podcast. Today’s special guest has a story that might just bring tears to your eyes. This summer at a conference, Heather had the pleasure of meeting indigenous rights activist Lew Hastings. Hastings is not indigenous himself, but his interests began at a very young age. His father was in the military, which meant that as a child he traveled through the country often. As a family tradition, on weekends, he would get to visit assorted historical places of interest. Now, wherever he goes, he’s seeking that indigenous story. Ever compelled, he attended Rutgers for Anthropology and Archaeology, with a specialty in prehistoric Native American History – this is something that has stayed with him for his whole life.
These days, Lew is a travel blogger, from the great nation of New Jersey! Although he was born in New York, he lives here. He travels a lot and he has a podcast about his journeys called Lessons From the Red Road. On this blog, he chronicles his journeys to indigenous locations. Another blog he has is called Tunes Less Traveled, which Lew describes as a fun log of his music as he travels throughout the country. He also enjoys producing content for the Red Road blog, but the content is much less lighthearted, as he discusses that ugly history which is swept under the rug by dominant society.
WE’RE ALL CURRENTLY STANDING ON STOLEN LAND
As Heather and Lew delve into the podcast, they preface the discussion by acknowledging that we’re all currently standing on stolen land, noting that New Jersey specifically is Lenape land. At the convention where Heather and Lew met, he told the story of Sitting Bull and the history of what was done to his tribe. This is a story about working with tribes in the Dakotas, most specifically the Lakota tribe out in Standing Rock. Sitting Bull was from Standing Rock. Many know of Standing Rock from the pipeline issues, but Sitting Bull and his people, the Hunkpapa, were chased around the West/Great Plains up into Canada after the Battle of the Little Big Horn. This battle took place in Montana, and here, Colonel Kuster was defeated by an overwhelming force of warriors led by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and other indigenous leaders. This was both a great victory and a terrible loss for the Lakota people, being a loss because the win now meant that there were targets on their backs and they had to keep moving to avoid being caught.
The United States government knew to dishearten and beat these warriors they had to remove their freedom of movement. This is why they decided to take away these people’s horses. Some of the soldiers kept the horses and the rest were turned out to the wild. The horses were not considered a beast of burden by people of Native tribes. Rather, they were an integral part of life, used for a variety of daily tasks. Beyond being used as tools or even kept as pets, the horses were regarded as relatives; these beings were seen as sacred members of the tribe. The United States government and military did everything in their power to break the spirit of the Native people, particularly the Lakota tribe. When the tribe was forced off of their land and onto reservations, separated from their horses, and then ultimately separated from their children, it broke them deeply. Descendants of these tribes will testify that the confiscation of horses was what set them on a spiral into the crippling issues they face today. The Lakota were known as the best horsemen on the continent, if not in the world. They still haven’t come back from losing these essential partners.
MEANWHILE, THE HORSES LIVE ON
Lew flashes back to the horses, which had been separated from the Lakota people and were running free. They were still there, reproducing and growing in the wild. Many of these horses found themselves in Northwestern North Dakota, on the future site of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The government tried everything in their power to get rid of these animals. They tried to capture the horses, and when this proved to be too difficult, they tried to introduce stock horses to breed out the genes of the horses that belonged to Sitting Bull’s tribe. None of this worked completely; although the number of these horses were reduced to only around 2,000, they were never eliminated.
That brings us to the 1980s, when a pair of brothers named Leo & Frank Kuntz dedicated themselves to saving as many of these horses as possible. Up until the 1980s, the United States government was periodically rounding up the Lakota horses and slaughtering whichever ones they could capture. The Kuntz brothers realized the personable and strong nature of these horses and bought as many as they could from the government. They brought them to their ranch in North Dakota and started the Nokota Horse Conservancy to preserve the indigenous horse genetics, which have been scientifically proven to be superior. They’ve been managing this herd on their land and surrounding ranches for all of these years in order to continue preserving the breed.
THIS IS PROPHECY
At around the time of the Standing Rock pipeline fight in 2016, Lew had the privilege of meeting Frank Kuntz and talking to him on his podcast. Lew asked if Frank had ever had the chance to reunite any of these horses with their people. Frank said no, although it’s always been a dream of his. (Side note: you may be able to see where this is going. Break out the tissues.) Lew told Frank that he runs an organization called the Native Now Foundation, which works to promote sovereignty and self-determination for indigenous families around the country through funding projects such as education programs, rehabilitating houses, and scholarships. Leo and Lew teamed up with Jon Eagle Sr., who is the historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Tribe and was very dedicated to the cause. “This is prophecy,” he told Lew in no uncertain terms, “that these horse relatives will return home to the Hunkpapa people one day.”
AN INDESCRIBABLY BEAUTIFUL EVENT
In 2018, Lew, the Kuntz brothers, and Jon Eagle Sr. traveled to North Dakota with a group of the rescued horses along with a filmmaker who documented the event. Lew tells that he can hardly express what the feeling of being behind the horse trailer was like as he anticipated what was about to happen. He took to Facebook Live to share the moment. Since they were essentially in the middle of nowhere, Lew was surprised when he saw pairs of headlights approaching. Members of the tribe were coming to witness the event. Jon Eagle Sr. performed a sacred ceremony, involving songs and prayers, to welcome the horses back to their people as relatives. Lew describes the experience as remarkable, and certainly lump-in-the-throat material. National news, of course, does not cover these types of stories, but there are exciting developments going on. For example, there is an equine therapy program run by Jon Eagle Sr. in which the horses connect on profound levels with struggling people such as veterans with PTSD and troubled youth to bring relief. The Lakota people are continuing to grow and breed the horses, slowly restoring the population.
2020 AND BEYOND…
These days, Lew is taking part in indigenous activism, traveling to sacred sites and funding families in need. For example, the Native Now Foundation reached out and allowed one family to attend horse management courses. Some goals for 2020 and beyond are to help restore food sovereignty to Native people by restoring their buffalo to them. Currently, these indigenous bison reside in Yellowstone National Park and are periodically slaughtered, just like their horse counterparts. If people want to get involved and support Lew’s activism, they can listen to Lew’s Red Road Radio show to get educated and/or donate on the Native Now website. Donating can earn one a tax break! The foundation is open to ideas for causes to dedicate resources to.
To our readers and listeners, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate you more than you can know. As mentioned earlier, mainstream media do not cover many activist issues, so we do it because it is incredibly important. Even if corporations were lining up to give us money, we would not take it. We only take donations from people like you, so we appreciate anything you can give, no matter how small the amount. The future is yours to create, go out there and create it!
-Leah Giannantonio, for New Jersey Revolution Radio