It has been said many times and in many ways that sports help to bring the world together. On a large scale, you see this firsthand in the Olympics and the World Cup when they are played every four years. There is an overwhelming feeling of patriotism in a healthy competitive spirit that, despite different rooting interests, helps bridge people of different races, creeds, and countries together.
At the minor-professional level across all sports, these opportunities to connect cultures and communities are more abundant. Such opportunities include the Teddy Bear Toss, specialty nights surrounding various causes, special ceremonial puck droppers, and color guards for our pregame ceremonies and performance of the National Anthem.
The Rapid City Rush are proud to continue identifying ways to bring fans and cultures together through hockey. This weekend, for the first time ever, we are welcoming in the Lakota Women Warriors to serve as our color guard prior to puck drop against the Utah Grizzlies on Saturday, December 12th.
“We couldn’t be more excited to participate in this Saturday’s game. I’m proud of our group and our heritage, and honored that we get to present our nation’s colors prior to puck drop,” said Kella With Horn, the leader of the Lakota Women Warriors. “We’ve had so many opportunities to spread our message at different sporting events and other Native American functions, so to do so at a Rush hockey game in the city we first started is incredible for us as a group.”
The Lakota Women Warriors are an all-female, all-Native American color guard that was established by With Horn and other veterans in October of 2014. According to the group’s website, “The Lakota Women Warriors have many goals in mind, but most importantly inspiring the youth, especially young Native American Women. The Lakota Women Warriors have the common goal of working together and being positive role models for all Native American youth. They dance for all warriors past and present, but are very supportive of the women who have served.”
With Horn is a veteran of the United States Army, finishing her service with a specialist rank. She is a Desert Storm era and Cold War veterab. Her tribe is the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The desire to join the military came early in her life, derived from her family.
“I was always going to join the military. It was in my blood. I tell people that my blood is green because I was always going to serve,” With Horn said. “My original goal was the Marine Corps, and coincidentally, I was born on the Marine Corps’ birthday. Life, however, has a way of changing your original goals and your path. Eventually, I made my way to the Army. My uncle was an Army veteran, and he really showed me the way for me in everything I did in my service, and in what I do now with the Warriors.”
The website details that the group originally started as a “dream” in 2012. The dream came as the women helped their respective tribes and homes with veterans duties and needs.
“We’ve all helped our individual tribes in various capacities. My uncle is the commander of the Cheyenne River Sioux veterans, and he would encourage me to participate in flag raising and help in the caretaking of the memorial flags of veterans who are no longer here. I noticed that many women that were veterans didn’t participate and wouldn’t come out. I always wanted to make people more aware that there are veterans out there that are strong women.
“Flag raising is very important to me. I have done it for years after I started with my uncle,” she continued. “When you hold the flag in your arms, so many emotions come to mind. Veterans names are written on some of the flags too. You see the names of people that never made it home, whether they were prisoners of war, or killed in action. I’ve held flags of veterans from World War I, World War II, and even one veteran that earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. I feel so much pride and honor to hold that flag and raise it. It means so much to the veteran’s family. Then you take the flag down, fold it up, and present it back to the family. If you put yourself in their spot, they were given that flag when they lost their loved one. Every time I present the flag back to the veteran’s family, I tell them that it was a sincere honor for me to hold that flag. It’s very emotional.”
According to With Horn, the group is eclectic, recognizing almost every branch of the armed forces, in addition to different tribal representation. Joining her as part of the group presenting the colors on Saturday night are:
- Marilee Spottedwolf – Gunners Mate Petty Officer 2nd Class, United States Navy (Northern Cheyenne)
- Glenda Littlebird – Specialist, United States Army (Northern Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne)
- Chelaine Knudsen – Specialist, United States Army National Guard (Yankton/Rosebud Sioux)
“I have women in this group that have served in the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps. Every branch is represented except the Coast Guard. There were groups like us previously, but none from South Dakota,” she continued. “No one was representing the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people, so that’s where we came up with the name: the Lakota Women Warriors.
“After our group was first formed, we received proclamation from the Governor of South Dakota. That moment got me thinking: how many Native American veterans of the United States military came from South Dakota that were women? Come to find out, no one had any stats on it. I called the women’s memorial in Washington D.C. and they didn’t have anything for me either. I thought longer, and I wanted to find a way to show that there were Native American women that served that could be in the forefront. We always talked as a group that we wanted to be leaders, and this group is what we came up with.”
One of the main pieces to honoring the group’s heritage and the armed forces is in their dress. While the Lakota Women Warriors wear traditional Native American clothing, there’s one piece that stands out amongst the ensemble: their military jackets.
“When I was younger and my uncle had passed away, I would wear his Army jacket along with my buckskin skirt when I danced to honor him,” With Horn explained. “We discussed wearing our military jackets as a group because people could relate to our service. We’re the same because we’re military, but we’re individuals too based on when we served and where we served.
“We decided to make our debut in October 2014 in Rapid City. Specifically, it was at the Black Hills Powwow,” she continued. “The first time we dressed with our jackets on, in addition to the rest of our traditional ensemble, all eyes were on us. At first, people were intrigued because we were all women. Then they saw our jackets and that we were military veterans. It became our look, and it all came about because I wore my uncle’s jacket while dancing to honor him all those years ago.”
Since the group’s formation in October of 2014, the Lakota Women Warriors have traveled across the country to dance at different powwows and presented the United States colors at a variety of sporting events. This weekend’s game against Utah will be their first hockey game presenting the colors.
“We’ve had the privilege to present the colors at NFL games in Kansas City and in Minnesota. I’m led to believe, and blessed to say, that we’re the first, and maybe only, all-female and Native American color guard to do not just one NFL football game, but two.
“When we did the Kansas City vs Indianapolis game at Arrowhead Stadium, the governor of Missouri came up to us and asked for a picture, as did the Chiefs owner’s wife, and a few other female Chiefs employees,” she continued. “They told us they thought we were the coolest color guard group they’d ever seen, and the reason was because we were all women. It was a great feeling. We get approached by younger women, and they all want to be like us. We do our best to be role models for them wherever we go.
“We were actually going to go to the dedication of the Native American Veterans Memorial in D.C., however that was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” With Horn added. “Three members of our group were interviewed for the commemorative magazine for the event, and they even asked us for a picture to put on the back cover! It meant a great deal to us, and hopefully we’ll get to present at the event when they reschedule.”
While the group’s message is geared towards young women, there is a bigger picture that the group is trying to inspire as well.
“As much as we try to be a role model for women, we’re just as much trying to be role models for Native American youth,” she elaborated. “In some way, shape, or form, Native American youth is exposed to many challenges, me included. It could be abuse, parental issues, alcoholism, and so many more vices. We try to show the younger generation and women all over that you can break the cycle if you set a goal, and work towards it as hard as you can. For us, that was the military and service to our country.
“That’s a challenge in and of itself. I personally feel if everyone could join the military, they would. It’s not that easy,” With Horn added. “There were countless challenges in joining the armed forces as a woman. Women have been overlooked in the armed forces, but ultimately, we persevered, and things worked for all of us to have fulfilling careers in the military. It’s all led us to this point where we now continue to be role models and honor our heritage and those that came before us in the military.”
Over the last six years, the Lakota Women Warriors have been a symbol for many Native American youths and women throughout all their travels. Always thinking forward, the group welcomes the day when they’ll be able to travel again and continue to spread their message to these groups across the United States.
“Our hope is that we do this for a long time. This October was going to be our sixth anniversary at the Black Hills Powwow, but unfortunately that event got cancelled due to the pandemic,” With Horn concluded. “We have some goals with where we want to go as well. Honestly? I’d love to present the colors at a NASCAR race. I think that would be so great for our group and our goal of expanding our message. At the end of the day, we’ll always find a way to show young Native Americans and young women that you can accomplish great things. In addition to that message, we will continue to honor our ancestors and fellow veterans for their service to the United States military with pride. We cannot wait to share this with everyone at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Saturday night!”