Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nine Eleven || An American Indian At Ground Zero

Ground Zero NYC 11 December 2001 ©2013 Turtle Heart

I was having my first cup of coffee that morning. As was my habit I turned on the cable news channel to see what had happened in the world during the night. I was in New Mexico, the little historic village of Taos. I was not dressed. I had my old Indian blanket wrapped around me in my old chair, sipping the coffee in the early morning chill of the high mountains. I was generally paying attention, also checking my email and doing those little things a modern person does in the morning…when the breaking news appeared.

At first I thought I had the wrong channel. What my tricked out brain saw was a tiny airplane fling towards the world trade center. It looked tiny to me, like a little old bi-plane. My first impression was that it was a promo for something. But then it changed. The picture and my mind came into focus. It was real. I sat stunned and watched the scene unfold live over national television, like so many others. I watched people jumping from the high building. Smoke rising, talking heads unclear about what was happening. Boom. The second jet slammed into the other tower and it was clear something beyond imagination was unfolding.

My friend Kristin came into the room about this time and we watched the towers burn and smoke. We used to live in Manhattan about 15 blocks up Broadway from the towers. She took one look at the burning towers and said emphatically, “they are coming down”. A few minutes later they did.

It was one of those moments one never forgets. At the time, living in Taos New Mexico I had many friends at the Taos Pueblo American Indian community. Every year at this time in the pueblo there is a week long ceremony and feast. People come from all over the world to watch and share in this event. The highlight is a pole climbing, a very old and sacred ceremony, where a person must climb a very tall, fat pole planted in the ground. At the top there is always a magical bundle of precious things, this varies from year to year. It is a ceremony conducted by all 22 of the Tewa-Tiwa American Indian tribes.

On September the twelve, as thousands of people watched, the events of the day before on everyone’s mind, the ceremonial climber reached the top of the great pole in the earth and drew forth an enormous American flag and waved it dramatically and beautifully into the wind. It was an amazing moment and everyone cheered…not a few of them wept openly.

The Taos pueblo is treated very poorly by the United States government, both at the state and federal levels. No one at the pueblo ever has much good to say about the United States…you have no idea how badly they are treated even to this day. Yet, through all the terrible history, even the American Indians of that little, poor and oppressed village felt a great loss and a great love for the country that is after all the home we American Indians share, for better or worse, with all Americans. When I remember that day on nine eleven, I always remember that ceremony the next day.

On December the 11th I traveled with the Sacred Pipe Bundle to New York city, with a single companion, who donated the travel costs. I made my way through roadblocks and police checkpoints. At each stop I told them that I was an American Indian who has come to make a ceremony at Ground Zero on behalf of my tribal elders. At every checkpoint I was passed through quickly.

When I arrived at the so-called “viewing platform” where so-called VIPs walked onto a small platform to view the caranage below…there was a circle of security people. I addressed the uniformed NYPD officer present and told her my story. She was a little sour, but she called over a uniformed US Army Colonel and I told him my story. He asked me what I needed and said go ahead. I went out onto the platform and opened my bag. I changed right there into my ceremonial clothing, putting them on over my steet clothes. I opened the little bundle holding Sacred Pipe and stood at the edge of the platform making a silent prayer. Workmen down below stopped what they were doing and looked up the whole time.

I sat down there, it was a small space, about ten feet square. I took out an old Peyote rattle and started a song, calling out the healing powers of the Mother Earth and calling out the names of those tribal elders. I opened my eyes after some minutes of singing and looked around…around me in a circle where all the uniformed and plain clothes police and security people. They had their eyes closed and their hands crossed at their waists. It was really a very moving moment.

I stood up and took the one photo, having my companion hold up the Old Man In Charge Of Dreams ceremonial mask.

I then went to ring my “tinksa” bells from Tibet. They are very old and have been personally blessed by Dalai Lama of Tibet. They normally ring for some minutes, very clear and dramtic. On this occasion they just thumped. They did not ring at all. It was very strange, and the only time in my life that happened.

I removed the ceremony clothing and silently went back to the public area, and back to the airport, going home on the next flight.

Turtle Heart
Keeper of the Four Directions Unity Bundle
Ojibwe Artist

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