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Native Americans and 9/11

Last night at the American Indian Cultural House, I had an opportunity to experience a profoundly symbolic expression of hope and healing.

A group of young people from the Lummi nation, a small (less than 7,000 members) Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest, journeyed across the country to share their experience of cultural trauma with 9/11 family members and first responders who experienced deep and lasting grief and loss as a result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center a decade ago. It was a powerful expression of solidarity across lines of culture, geography and life experience. Despite the differences, the gift giving (hats and bracelets made of cedar bark, books and tee-shirts), the singing, the good food and the warm greetings were emblematic of a shared experience—not just of trauma; but also of survival and triumph.

I was honored to offer a word of prayer and some brief remarks. I spoke about Healing Turtle Island, an event that took place in lower Manhattan on the day after Thanksgiving in 2009—the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sailing into New York Harbor. On that day, the Collegiate Church publicly acknowledged its complicity in imposing an alien cultural and legal framework on the Lenape people, the first inhabitants of Manhattan and the surrounding countryside.

On that day, as well, the Lenape people offered a gracious word of forgiveness and reconciliation and the two communities agreed to work together in a new and mutually respectful relationship. That partnership continues to this day and my participation last night grew out of that involvement.

I also spoke a word about the reconciling work that Intersections (and the whole Collegiate Church) has been engaged in as we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11th. At the very time I was downtown, back at Intersections one of Prepare New York’s 500 planned CoffeeHour Conversations was taking place. I spoke about the Ribbons of Hope that will take place on the 9/11 weekend in lower Manhattan, and I talked about the need for healing and reconciliation among one another and with the whole world.

It is always particularly gratifying for me when one of Intersections’ initiatives converges with another. Last night was yet another example of that. Our work with the Native American community and our work with Prepare New York as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11 seem wholly removed from one another. Yet, I was struck again last night by how truly united we are. The commemoration of this awful day provides the opportunity to awaken in each of us a deeper understanding of how we might cross the many boundaries that seem to divide us in order to forge common ground for justice, reconciliation and peace.