On November 27, 2009 the Collegiate Church of New York, Intersections’ “parent” organization, observed the first national Native American Heritage Day (as designated by President Obama in June) with Healing Turtle Island: An Event of Cultural Reconciliation between the Collegiate Church and the Lenape. It was an amazing experience. You can watch a six and a half minute video of the event below, or by clicking here.
While the Tiger Woods drive to nowhere and the White House gate crashers dominated the headlines, the event was covered by more than 350 news outlets across the US and another couple dozen overseas. Those news stories could not capture the sense of acknowledgement, acceptance, forgiveness and resolve to move forward in a new way that was present in downtown Manhattan that blustery day after Thanksgiving. And, perhaps, even more important developments were afoot—far beyond the emotions that overflowed in the park.
Rabbi Marc Gopin, from George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and a seasoned conflict resolution expert on a global scale said to me that our event’s rootedness in specific historic events is precisely what gives it both its power and its global relevance. “Invaders,” Gopin told me, “become disconnected from the lands they invade. This disconnection is partly responsible for our current global ecological crisis. Only when outsiders acknowledge their role as conquerors, can healing happen between peoples and even in the land itself.” Indeed, we hope that the collaborative process we used in producing Healing Turtle Island can serve as a model for reconciliation in other settings where unjust structures have been imposed upon indigenous people.
One remarkable aspect of the event was how many Lenape told me that in addition to a time for healing between our two communities, they also found the day to offer a moment of reconciliation among their own people. Curtis Zunigha, former chief of the Delaware (Lenape) Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma spoke in a press conference after the event about how privileged he was to meet leaders of other Lenape bands for the first time. One writer for the Daily Kos told me, “I really believe this was a positive watershed moment. I am highly optimistic; this is a new day for healing. I have never seen such warm smiles on the faces of my Native American friends before. They were truly happy.”
But now, the pressure is on us to actually move forward in new and concrete ways so that the smiles and tears on that single day are not for naught. We have already begun working in the areas of arts and culture, education and social justice. But the proof will ultimately be in the pudding. We in the Collegiate Church ask you all to hold us accountable. That’s the whole reason behind making a public witness.