The Words of the Cornier Family
The following account of a special initiative for repentance and reconciliation by sisters in America includes outtakes from personal reflections by Native Americans who participated.
In 1607, the first permanent English settlement in North America, Jamestown, was founded in what would become the State of Virginia. Although the initial response of the native inhabitants was to share food with the immigrants and try to form alliances, these peacemaking efforts were not reciprocated by the English. Coming from vastly different cultures, the Europeans and Native Americans have had such different world views that their interaction over the centuries have largely been characterized by the indigenous people as conflict and suffering. Instead of harmonizing with the native peoples, the steadily increasing numbers of settlers from Europe displaced the native nations' and significantly affected their traditional culture. This painful wound in the history of the American peoples needs to be healed.
More than a hundred and sixty Native American, Asian, black and white women (and some of their husbands) came to Norfolk, Virginia, from all over America, and even from England, Japan and Israel, to honor Native American ancestors who had suffered and to pledge to make amends for some of the tragic mistakes made in America's past. This event, which took place on November 30 and December 1, 2007, was called Peacemakers for Sacred Healing.
Norfolk, which Father mentions in his Pacific Rim speech, is about forty miles from Jamestown. Though earlier settlements existed, Jamestown is the first that survives to this day in the United States, which some Native Americans still call "Turtle Island."
On November 30, the participants journeyed to Jamestown. As participants joined in a circle of prayer for reconciliation, representative Native American guests offered a traditional Four-Directional Prayer, followed by prayers from woman clergy members of different races. Afterward they visited a re-created indigenous peoples' village and the English settlement at the museum.
The following day, in Norfolk, the Peacemakers for Sacred Healing gathering was held. One highlight of the event was a Give-Away by white American participants. In Native American culture, important ceremonies were held by families to honor significant events or accomplishments by a family member. An important component of such honoring ceremonies was a give-away, in which the family prepared substantial gifts -- such as valuable horses, beautifully decorated clothing, blankets or food -- to give other members of their nation. The value of the gifts demonstrated how much the family honored and valued the individual. It also functioned as a means of income redistribution, with the neediest tribe members often being the main beneficiaries.
As a gesture of restitution for past injustices, twelve gifts were prepared and offered to Native American guests by descendants of prominent colonial-era leaders-past presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams), signers of the Declaration of Independence, founders of several colonies, and other prominent figures. Participants and audience members alike were deeply moved, realizing that this encounter of heart would affect their ancestors as well as their descendants.
Another highlight was the Sisterhood Ceremony, in which twelve women of colonial descent and twelve Native American women were paired and crossed the Bridge of Peace to be linked as sisters. The spirit in the room was so joyful and bright that when members of the audience were offered an opportunity to also cross the bridge and be paired with a sister, everyone stepped forward. Afterward everyone signed the Norfolk Declaration.
The day concluded with an inter-tribal Round Dance, in which everyone joined hands and circled the room in honor of all the participants. Future events are envisioned at other historic locations, with the desire that in the future this sisterhood can develop into substantial relationships, not only a symbolic encounter.
Wynema Morris, of the Omaha Tribe, wrote of her experience visiting the settlement: "I was not prepared for the feelings that I had within me. At the site an archaeologist pointed out a kitchen hearth, where the 'first settlers' cooked their meals and gathered for warmth and sustenance. Standing there, looking at the remains of this long-ago primitive dwelling, I suddenly found myself in tears... I realized that these were tears of anger, hurt, and grief for all the wrongs that had been done to my people."
She believed "some healing began to enter [her] spirit" only after meeting descendants of English settlers who sincerely apologized and asked for forgiveness.
Ms. Morris, who researches and teaches Native American history, was one of four Native Americans appointed ambassadors for peace at the conference. She called this appointment "a great honor that I hope to fulfill." Of the white woman who became her sister through the Sisterhood Ceremony she wrote, "I feel so fortunate in being paired with her." Nevertheless, her heart was reticent to forgive injustices done to Native Americans.
Once home, she related her experience to her mother and sister. After absorbing what she had said, her mother responded, "These people, all those who acknowledged the wrongs done to us, they sound like they really meant it. And they came forth and admitted it. Why couldn't you accept their apology?"
Ms. Morris explained that perhaps she couldn't accept it because of her own pain, born of ostracism, growing up in America "always being 'the Indian girl' with black hair and braids and with the funny sounding name," along with her knowledge of tribes across America whose very way of life had been destroyed.
Her mother persisted: "But they acknowledged their wrongs and they asked you to forgive them. And, Wynema, think about it -- they were sincere and they took you there, especially to ask this of you. If not these people, then who? And if not now, then when?"
"Seeing that my mother of eighty- five winters is still the wisest person I know," Wynema wrote, "1 knew deep in my heart she was right." Their nation, the Omaha, had forged a history of peaceful practices in a hostile atmosphere. Who is going to carry on that tradition? How is the conference theme -- Rebirth, Renewal and Reconciliation -- to be substantiated? "It has to start now and it has to start with me," she realized. Wynema Morris concluded her reflection, "That night, at home in Walthill, Nebraska, on the Omaha Indian Reservation, my ancestral homelands, I slept deeply and finally, peacefully. I had a new sense of hope in my heart."
Margaret Herbers (from the Family Federation HQ in the U.S.) recently interviewed Linda Cornier, who was matched and blessed by True Parents in 1982 and is the author of Restitution within Mother Earth's Embrace.
Margaret: What stands out in your mind about the months of preparation for the Peacemakers of Sacred Healing event?
Linda Cornier: First I want to honor those who made the spiritual foundation for that day. The event originated with an inspiration received by Mrs. Claire Daugherty to reconcile the wrongs of the past, remembering the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. As a white American, she had a strong feeling that a reconciliation event was needed in 2007. This event also stood on a three-year foundation of prayer by Women in Ministry of the American Clergy Leadership Conference during their twice-monthly conference calls for prayer, led by Mrs. Reiko Jenkins. Claire, Brenda and Reiko asked for my input once planning was in progress.
There has been so much anguish in the past, which has led to the present conditions in the Native American nations, and perhaps many Americans are unaware of this suffering. I definitely feel we all carry the sins of our ancestors, but we can also carry the healing for our ancestors. I wanted to be an instrument of healing and reconciliation and renewal for America's painful beginnings in the conflict between Europeans and indigenous peoples.
One sister received that Native Americans in the spirit world were gathering to support the event. Those ancestors wanted to see everything made right for the sake of the future. They had disagreements among themselves but met and discussed these and held ceremonies to gather one mind and heart to do this. Generation upon generation prepared to attend as one body of all tribal nations united. They were coming on their horses in their finest regalia, with their heads held high as noble people worthy of respect. This was a very serious ceremony for them, and it was important that all the Natives American participants be met as equals by the white American participants. The Native Americans had been treated as less than nothing by the Europeans who took away their lands, and they had to overcome this resentment. The noble warriors were inspiring the others to resurrect through their descendants and be a proud people once again.
Was visiting the Jamestown historic site an emotional experience for you and other Native Americans?
Absolutely. When we stood on the actual shore where the English arrived, a wave of feeling came over us, remembering what happened back then and how it affected the whole United States.
When we did the Four-Directional Prayer, facing north, south, east, and west, it brought back the original heart of the indigenous people, always praying for the world. We always had the concept of one family under God that never was understood by the Europeans. We can't divide Mother Earth, or the sky, or divide things that the Creator gave to us. We all have to share them because we are all interconnected. We never lost that desire to create peace.
I'm sure each Native American participant was saddened when we walked through the recreated Indian village at Jamestown, visualizing the people living there, the children growing up in their homes, all for thousands of years before the Europeans came.
What was the significance of the Give-Away by white Americans?
It was a restorational gesture for the descendants of white Americans to give something back instead of taking. Our sister Brenda Miller had a revelation in prayer to create this ceremony. She prayed during six months to find each of the twelve gifts, which represented elements of Native American culture. I remember especially that a Seminole woman who had done a dance earlier in the program received the white sequined shawl, which symbolized the beauty of Native American women. This lady wept as the shawl was put around her shoulders because she had been feeling in conflict over continuing with her scheduled traditional performances. For her, the gift was an affirmation of the value of her traditional performing art. None of us had any idea beforehand about what was in her heart. This kind of experience made us feel that indeed historical healing was taking place.
It was also very meaningful that the non-natives presenting the gifts were descendants of prominent colonial Americans. Those ancestors too could benefit. Truly it was a day of joy and healing.
What was most important for you personally about this experience?
That it happened. I've been yearning for this for such a long time. When it finally came, it was a heart-lifting spiritual experience, a dream I was in. It was a sacred experience for me and a beginning point of what needs to happen again and again until every Native American can feel an experience of unity, healing the scars of our ancestors, healing our communities, and showing our young people a new beginning for a better future. When we did the Round Dance at the end, it was symbolic of what needed to happen in the past, what we need now and in future generations -- it felt like one family under God, with each person an important link to complete the dance circle of life.