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For nearly half a century, Emmett Eastman Sr., a Native American activist, ran marathons.

"My runs represent a prayer step," he said in 2018, on the eve of a relay run to remember the 1862 hanging of 38 Sioux Indians in Mankato. "Each step is a prayer for world peace and dignity."

His great-grandfather Wakinya Cistina, whose English name was Little Thunder, was one of the 38.

And his great-uncle Charles Alexander Eastman, a Dakota doctor and author, was the attending physician at the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D., where nearly 300 Lakota Indians were killed by U.S. Army soldiers.

Eastman, 89, who lived in New Prague, died of health complications at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Oct. 4.

Eastman, whose Dakota name was Ta Wakanhdi Ota or "His Many Lightnings," was a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He was inspired by his parents, Oliver and Bertha Baine-Eastman, who joined AIM shortly after it was founded in the late 1960s.

"He was always involved in the movement," said Clyde Bellecourt, one of the founders of AIM. "He was very supportive of it. He was always at our big gatherings."

Eastman took up running at the age of 40. Encouraged by the late Dennis Banks, another founding AIM member and a runner himself, Eastman joined marathons across the globe, carrying to 22 countries the message of his Dakota heritage and commitment to social justice.

Anne White Eastman, one of his daughters, said that her father and Banks were like brothers. "They had a special bond," she said.

"Whenever there was a cause, he was there," said Laurie Many Lightnings of Shakopee, another daughter. That included recent pipeline protests and visiting George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, said Ron Goodeagle Jr., a grandson.

"I have run through the American Rockies and the Canadian Rockies and different countries throughout the world where there are mountains," Eastman said in a video on CNB-TV in Sisseton, S.D. He said he had run in the Australian Outback and in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Japan and Africa.

"I have run in extreme heat and at 80-below windchill," he said. "I belong to a culture, the Dakota culture. I admire the culture and I try to live it the best I can. I don't speak the language but I carry it with my feet, the heartbeat of the universe."

Dan Eastman, a distant cousin from Hopkinton, Mass., said, "He spread his Dakota culture and spirituality around the world."

Eastman was born near Sisseton in 1931. He grew up on a farm, joined the U.S. Air Force in 1951 and, after an honorable discharge, married Frances Crawford.

She died in childbirth in 1974 and he also lost the child, named Charles. Eastman called it "a devastating experience" in his video talk and struggled with alcoholism for 14 months until he rejected drugs and alcohol: "You learn from the past and you learn from your mistakes," he said.

Besides Anne White Eastman and Laurie Many Lightnings, he is survived by a brother, Milton Eastman of South Dakota; sisters Carole Standing Elk of California and June Pink and Joyce Rice of South Dakota; children Leslie Eastman, Lynn Eastman, Francis Eastman, Emmett Eastman Jr. and Lucille Eastman, all of South Dakota; 25 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.

The wake and services were held in Sisseton and included three relay runs, said Goodeagle, who officiated at the funeral.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224