An American Indian At ground Zero

©Turtle Heart 2001. After my ceremony at ground Zero there was taken one photo. This photo.

I am an American Indian. A Keeper of Religious Ceremonies of the Sacred Pipe, a part of traditional American Indian spiritual life. I have had the unusual experience of carrying this Sacred Pipe on behalf of the tribal elders to two regions of this mother earth that are called “Ground Zero.”

The first Ground Zero Journey was to the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. 

During the dark of one night I walked some miles, about 15 of them overnight round trip. My destination was the sight of the first Atomic Explosion. Using a good map and walking the magnificent desert during a full moon I found the little area where the tower that made the first explosion once stood. There is a modest monument there now. Nearby, in the hard sands I made a hole. I sat before the hole I made and sang an old American Indian song. When the song was finished I placed the tip of an 800 year old Samurai sword, blessed and made a sacred “Kami”, its other parts placed in 107 places around the earth….this little sacred Japanese sword and a sacred Pipe bowl of the River Otter Clan of the Ahnishinabe (Ojibwe), blessed by many tribal elders; precious and sacred objects filled with spiritual powers, history and the focused meditations of many people around the world….there in that little hole in the desert was placed The Sacred Pipe and The Sword of Heaven; a radical ceremonial fusion between American Indian and Shinto hopes for peace, healing, balance…for compassion. 

The Sacred Pipe was donated for this ceremony by a group of American Indian elders of many tribes. The sword was encased in stone and covered in Shinto prayers, 108 bundles made by Shinto religious officers. 

Many times as I walked away from this ceremony in the now freezing cold New Mexico desert, the journey back was difficult. Y mind went away and all I could do was breathe and walk. Every hour or so I would just fall down in the sand and sleep. The cold would wake me up. I would stumble on and fall asleep again. The cold would wake me up four or five times before I finally made it back to my hidden car rental. As I drove away my heart was numb, not from emptiness, but from raw emotion. I told the desert that it had taken a part of me that I can never have back. That is how hard that ceremony was.

My second journey to Ground Zero took place on December 11, 2001.

I left my home in Taos New Mexico and boarded a flight for New York City. From the airport I took a Taxi and asked the driver to take me to the observation platform for the destruction of the world trade center. The driver was a very unsurprised New York cabbie. He took me pretty close and pointed to some police officers at a barricade and told me to talk to them if I wanted to go to that ground Zero. I approached the police and explained to them that I was an American Indian carrying the sacred Pipe and the prayers of the tribal elders to Ground Zero. They passed me on to yet another barricade or checkpoint and I repeated my story. This happened three or four times before I found myself at the entrance to the little visitor’s platform. A military officer was in charge there. I told him who I was. I told him why I had come. He asked me directly “What do you need from us?” I told him I wanted about 30 minutes to make a ceremonial prayer with sacred Pipe and make a song there as well, an old old song. 

I went out onto the platform and changed into my ceremonial clothing (I put it over my regular clothing), opened the old tribal bundle, and brought out the Sacred Pipe. Together Sacred Pipe and I walked to the edge of the rather small platform and looked into the center of the great wound that had been made on the earth. I made the smoking ceremony to this great hole. A few hundred feet below there were some workers moving about. They stopped what they were doing and looked up. I felt a little embarrassed for some reason. I was there for the wound in the earth. At that moment, some 3 months later, this tiny point on the earth was receiving more thoughts, prayers, questions, fears, and grief than perhaps any other disaster in my life time. 

It was and will remain an emotionally charged point on the earth. I could emotionally feel the compression of life, of the earth itself that took place there. I was surprised that it is really a small space compared to what happened there. After a few moments I sat down on the earth and made a very strong old Ojibwe song to the earth, right there. I noticed that about a dozen plain clothes security people were gathered in a half circle around me and all had looks on their faces I will never forget. They were there every day. They saw with their eyes the people who came and went in that small space just after the ninth of september. I get tears in my eyes when I remember that moment, that small moment with my old American Indian bones and those people. When I think about that experience I feel pressure pushing against my emotions. I reflect on how every door opened to allow me to just go there, get as close as an ordinary person could, and represent in an ancient language and in ancient prayers the weeping of the mother earth, as well as the many families and relatives who were affected on that day.

Now I am an old Ojbwe American Indian man. I married an exceptional Italian woman and together we live on Pantelleria Island. On nine eleven we will make the ceremony of the sacred pipe, and once again sing some old songs and unite in spirit and thought with our other American friends in Italy and of course our cherished Italian relations, family and friends. We continue the work of moving this ancient sacred pipe around in the world. It seems so interesting that right now it lives only 25 miles from the center of the unprecedented and hopeful ARab Spring. On behalf of my tribal elders and my office as Keeper of the sacred religious bundle we call the Four Directions Unity Bundle we send our respects and kind regards.

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