Unification News for June 1997

First Native American Bridge of Peace Ceremony Held in S. Calif.

by Paula Fujiwara-Anaheim, CA

On the evening of May 14, 1997, the Interracial Sisterhood Project of Southern California brought their Bridge of Peace to the talent and culture night of the 18th National Indian and Native American Employment and Training Conference (NINAETC) at the Anaheim Sheraton Hotel. They also brought over 100 women eager to become a "Sister of Peace" with a Native American woman.

The annual conference of NINAETC takes place in a different location each year. Community leaders from many tribes around the nation gather to address employment and job training issues. The Southern California Indian Center, Inc. was responsible to organize the talent and culture night for this year's conference in Anaheim. Paula Starr, assistant executive director of S.C.I.C., Inc., was inspired to include the Bridge of Peace Ceremony as part of the culture night. Her inspiration came from Mieko Ishino, a volunteer with the Interracial Sisterhood Project of Southern California, who made Paula's acquaintance several months prior to the conference.

Ms. Starr brought together all the talent for the first half of the program, which included a poetry reading, a Navajo flute soloist, a Creek psychic entertainer, a 10-year-old Chickasaw vocalist, a 5-year-old Sioux boy dancer and the local Intertribal Student Council Dancers. The entertainment portion of the evening concluded with an invitation for all to join in the Friendship Dance in front of the Bridge of Peace. Many in the audience of over 300 joined the dance, which contributed to the harmonious atmosphere already apparent in the room.

Mrs. Sheri Rueter, chairwoman of the Interracial Sisterhood Project, then came forward to emcee the Bridge of Peace Ceremony: "It is my honor to welcome you to the first Bridge of Peace Ceremony to be held with Native American women here in America. This event is about...women who are scared and brave; who are hurt and have healing powers; who carry dreams of love in their hearts. This event is about women who can cross a bridge."

At this juncture, Ms. Alma Rail, president of the Board of Directors of the Southern California Indian Center, and Mrs. Jennifer Francis, representing the event co-sponsor, Women's Federation for World Peace, exchanged flower bouquets on the Bridge of Peace in a gesture of friendship.

Mrs. Rueter then continued to convey the heart of the ceremony through her words: "We are bound together by our common desire for dignity and peace, not only for ourselves, but for our children and all humanity. We represent millions of people who lived before us, who suffered, who caused suffering, who watched and did nothing while suffering and injustice prevailed. Each of us carry these experiences in our spirit. We are affected by that history, whether we are conscious of it or not, whether it is personal or not." At one point, Mrs. Rueter looked up from her prepared text to offer an emotional apology on behalf of those Americans who have unjustly harmed Native American peoples. She concluded: "One woman crossing this bridge meets another. Perhaps she experiences her own ability to change or to forgive or to be forgiven. One woman who changes can impact everyone she comes in contact with-her family, her friends, her community, her world."

A special duet followed Mrs. Rueter's remarks. Two 10-year-old young ladies, Courtney Starns, a Chickasaw, and Stephanie Nickols, sang "Love Can Build A Bridge" as they went through the ritual of the bridge-crossing and down into the audience.

Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez, writer, storyteller and lecturer of American Indian Studies at California State University at Long Beach then imparted something of the woman-centered spirit of Native American peoples. She quoted a saying by Laguna Pueblo writer Paula Gunn Allen: "In the beginning was thought and her name was woman!" She explained that it was the White Buffalo Calf Woman who originally brought the Way of the Sacred Pipe, the teaching of a balanced life which is respectful of all things. She told the story of "The Hidden Wisdom": When the elders saw that the people were abusing and corrupting their gift of wisdom, they decided to hide it from them. But the question was where. They couldn't agree on a hiding place until an old woman spoke: "Hide the wisdom deep in their hearts. They'll never think to look there!" In this way Georgiana brought the audience to realize that peace is achieved by looking deep into our hearts.

Finally, the anticipated moment arrived as the Native American women were asked to line up at one end of the bridge and all other women at the other end. Nearly 70 pairs of sisters came together on the bridge that evening. Some Native American women received two new sisters, while several married couples became paired, in addition to a few "brothers" and children. The new pairs recited the Sisterhood Pledge together and signed each other's Sisterhood Certificates.

Paula Starr, coordinator of the program, remarked that the ceremony felt natural. "The words which Sheri and Georgiana shared painted the necessary imagery to move forward our deepest and most heartfelt desire as women for world peace. Our board president was emotionally taken by everyone's commitment for world peace."

The formal close of the program was the singing of "Let there be Peace on Earth" as all held hands in a large circle. No one was in a hurry to leave as new pairs took photographs on the bridge and lingered to share with one another.

Many Native American participants were inspired to go home and plan bridge ceremonies with chapters of Women's Federation for World Peace in their localities.

Reprinted with permission from New California Times

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