Kelci Bends, Sioux teenager and daughter of Indian champ bronc rider, galvanized hearts at the NFR.
“And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw. I was seeing in a sacred manner, the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.” – Black Elk, Lakota Medicine Man, Warrior and Prophet.
In a powerful vision, Black Elk was shown that in seven future generations there would be a mending of the sacred hoop of all human beings, a unity that had died with the massacre of innocents in 1890 at Wounded Knee.
Kelci Bends is a member of that seventh generation. A millennial who, through her oddly timeless voice, has the power to bring that prophecy to life. She proved that during the opening ceremony of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s third round when she sang the Lord’s Prayer while her friend Syd Colombe translated her words to Native sign language; the universal way indigenous peoples of different tribes and tongues historically communicated.
It was an experience that touched souls.
It’s a long way from Cherry Creek, South Dakota, to Las Vegas. About 1,212 miles, to be exact. The 14-year-old Native cowgirl with the haunting voice reminiscent of The Motels’ Martha Davis, Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins, and Macy Gray has dreams as big the Northern Plains she calls home. That long stretch of highway was the beginning of realizing those dreams.
Like Kelci, Syd Colombe comes from a long line of bronc riders. Both grew up on the rodeo trail. About 20 years ago, Syd was asked to help with an opening pageant for producer Jim Sutton. The vision to sing the Lord’s Prayer illustrated with Native sign was a show stopper. Shawn Davis (the former bronc rider and current production specialist behind the NFR) thought a resurrection of that opening for Native American Night would be dramatic. He was right.
Kelci’s family tree has broad roots that reach into the Crow, Cheyenne, and Lakota nations of Indian cowboys. Her ancestors’ songs have echoed across this beautiful land since the beginning of mankind. She’s a working cowgirl, helping with the 7,000-acre family ranch and rodeoing when she can. Her great-great grandfather, Bud Annis, was a member of the original Cowboy Turtles Association, the organization that eventually became the multimillion dollar sports property that is the PRCA.
Casey Tibbs, Shawn Davis, John McBeth, and a slew of other bronc-riding legends would come down Cherry Creek to get on Annis’ good horses. Her dad, Marty Hebb, is a six-time Indian National Finals Rodeo Association bronc-riding champion. Hebb’s NFR bids came so close the talented young man could almost taste success, but it wasn’t to be.
Last night he stood in the wings, waiting with his daughter for her curtain call. It was as nervous as the steel-nerved cowboy has ever been. Later, as he walked her through the gauntlet of adoring reporters who kept Kelci busy in interviews for a couple of hours after she stunned the WNFR audience, the 44-year-old veteran glowed like his own elusive gold buckle dream had come true.
There are many roads to the realization of dreams. The key is to simply keep driving.