We Are All Related

Nov 15th, 2001 | By | Category: 13-2: The Power of Partnerships, Editor's Essay
By Marjane Ambler

The flag is carried proudly beside the eagle staff at a pow wow in Cody, WY. Photo by Mike McClure

Since September 11, 2001, the word “partnership” has taken on a whole new meaning. The Attack on America occurred as this issue on partnerships was going to press, forcing us to withdraw one essay and replace it with new thoughts about the significance of the attack to American Indian people and to our partnerships.

New Yorkers watched superficial barriers separating person from person crumble following the attack. Instead of keeping one another at arm’s length, New York City suddenly became a giant home town. Reflecting the new intimacy, a policeman said “bless you” to a pedestrian who sneezed, and it made national news.

Tribal communities shared the feelings of outrage and solidarity that flooded the country. We frantically emailed and telephoned to inquire about the welfare of relatives and friends in New York and the Washington beltway. Several tribal college presidents were flying to Washington September 10 and 11. The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Cultural Learning Center office is 20 blocks from the World Trade Center, and the American Indian College Fund also has a New York office, although it is located further from the disaster area. Thankfully, everyone was safe and accounted for. Our New York staffs say the outpouring of support from the tribal colleges was overwhelming.

Following their rural instincts, John Phillips, David Wise, and Shawnda Zindler responded to the rumor of a fourth plane by walking 10 miles, across the Potomac, to escape Washington, D.C., where they had been attending a meeting on September 11. Phillips is on the AIHEC staff, Wise is from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, and Zindler is from Salish Kootenai College.

On September 12, more than 100 students, faculty, and staff gathered at the medicine wheel on the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) campus for prayers and songs. (United Tribes is an intertribal college in Bismarck, ND.) The student senate there organized a bingo and donated the proceeds to the disaster victims, and we have heard of similar efforts by other tribal college student groups to raise money, distribute ribbons and flags, and organize prayer vigils.

As the dust settled, faculty, staff, and students at tribal colleges heard more about the welfare of their relatives in Washington and New York. Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College student Carl Rasanen was relieved to hear that his brother-in-law, a fireman in New York, was safe and one of those working 30 hour shifts in the rescue effort. Tribal college personnel worried about their sons, daughters, brothers, and cousins in the Armed Services who were on alert status.

Americans everywhere became aware that we are one large family, interdependent and interconnected. The UTTC board of directors met on Sept. 17 and sent a resolution to President George W. Bush expressing sympathy for the victims and support for efforts to combat terrorism. The resolution focused mostly upon the horrible attack, almost parenthetically mentioning Indian people’s own experiences with massacres and with prejudice. It said in part:

As tribal nations, we stand in complete condemnation of these terrible and horrific acts. The cultures of our member Nations teach us that we are all related, and never has this felt more true than now when our nation has suffered such a terrible disaster and where our Nation has lost so many of its lives, so many of its citizens, innocent victims all.

We, the member Tribal Nations of United Tribes Technical College and United Tribes of North Dakota, recognize the suffering of the victims and their families and offer to them our deepest sympathies, our prayers, and our support.

As Nations and as peoples who have suffered our own share of disasters, we seek answers to the senselessness of these acts. As the Nation deals with its grief and loss, we ask that our fellow citizens not condemn anyone because of their race or their religious or political beliefs.

The tribal leaders recognized that some people’s fear and anger were already being expressed against any people with dark skin and different belief systems. Explaining the resolution UTTC President David M. Gipp said Native Americans are very patriotic. “We believe very strongly in this country.”

As a non-Indian, I found it astonishing to see the prominence of the American flag when I first started attending Indian events 25 years ago. The stars and stripes are beaded into vests and sewn into jackets of pow wow dance regalia. Indian veterans carry the red, white, and blue with immense pride at pow wow and parade processions, along side tribal nation flags.

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