Zuni Indians Eagle Dance Against Terrorism
On Nine Eleven, why did a flock of "birds" circle the burning Twin Towers?  Were they Eagles of Vigilance?   Did they awaken in all of us the exigency to stand Vigilant in the face of Terror?   When the Zuni Indians dance, do they remind us all that the past, present and future is one Medicine Wheel, and that Terrorism will be crushed by our belief in Courage over Fear, Conviction over Intimidation, and Right Actions versus Complacency?  



Sunday--November 17
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 431
Zuni Indians "Eagle Dance"
For Sentinels At Ground Zero

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, Nov. 17 -- The Spirits of Vigilance danced at Ground Zero yesterday (Sun, Nov. 16).  They danced with eagle’s feathers.  They danced with colorful pots on their heads.   They danced with stars in their eyes.
       In the wake of Nine Eleven, ancient rituals seem more modern than anachronistic.  At least, that’s how I felt as my wife and I watched the famous Zuni Indian Cellicion family dancers soar on the oval stage of the rotunda at Manhattan's Alexander Hamilton Custom House.  The Eagle Dance was one of three performed at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, housed inside the Custom House and located just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

Director, Fernando Cellicion

The Eagle Dance performed by the Cellicion Men

     The Zuni family “tribe” has carried on the legacy of ritual dancing for three generations.  They  perform globally.  Their most recent tour was in the Baltic States where they danced in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.  The director, Fernando Cellicion, is a world famous flute player.
      Yesterday, the Zunis brought the “Great Spirit” to life just a few blocks from Ground Zero.  I interpreted their dances as a call to the Great Spirits, a petition to bring favor upon the children of earth, to fertilize the seeds of prosperity, and to wash away the blood of Terrorism

Ancient Zuni

       Historically, the Zunis are one of the few American Indian tribes to have survived the wrath of the "modern world."  The Zuni Indians of today are one of 19 original tribes that once inhabited the area that is now called New Mexico and Arizona - The Zuni River Valley.   The tribe is said to have originated from a tribe that lived in the same area over 1,500 years prior to the coming of the Europeans - 400 AD. This tribe, the Anasazi, was a large society that encompassed large amounts of land, riches and many distinct cultures and civilizations. The Zuni are thought to be direct descendants of the Anasazi.

Zuni Village

    The Zuni are also distinct in that they have managed to remain quite unaffected by outer influences. They still claim the same land they always lived on, an area about the size of Rhode Island. They also mainly reside in one city, Zuni, New Mexico.

   Although there are Zuni Indians who live outside of the city and the general area, they are few and far between. The tribe has managed to remain intact due to the fact that they were never involved with problems that didn't concern their own people. Because they did not fight in any wars or take sides in any conflicts, they were able to remain autonomous and were unaffected by the changes around them.
     I was entranced by the performance held under a magnificent oval dome in the Customs House, surrounded by frescoes telling the story of American history.
     The Eagle Dancers came out first.   They swooped down, their arms carrying finely shaped Eagle’s feathers remarkably resembling the magnificent raptor who can see "all," and is powerfully wise.  Because the eagle soars high above earth, it is considered the connecting link between Heaven and Earth; eagle plumes are believed to be the prayer bearers.
     Wings spread wide, the Zuni Eagle dancers banked, swooped and appeared to rise as though on lofts of air scooped upward by the Great Spirit, a symbol of their mastery over gravity, and their eagle-eyed Vigilance over life itself.

     As the dancers swooped and turned, I was lifted back to the events of Nine Eleven just over a year ago.      I remembered the surreal scene too well.
      Before the Towers fell, the azure September sky was filled with orange and black balls  flame spewing out of the Trade Center’s vital organs eight hundred feet above me.   I craned my neck backwards to watch the horror of the building’s mortal wound. 
      Around the belching flames and smoke eighty stories high was a halo of fluttering wings.  I stared hard at them, confused at first.  Were they sea gulls?  Pigeons?  Doves?   Why would thousands of birds circle the burning Twin Towers, I thought.
      Then I saw people leaping from the shattered windows to their death.  They were choosing to die rather than be burned to death.   I groaned as their bodies took flight for a brief instant, suddenly sinking down at 125 miles per hour, arms and legs flailing, trying to fly but unable to.  Others leaps without flailing, holding hands and leaping as though below was a soft bath of water that would capture them safely in its arms.

      Again, I strained my eyes to make out the flock of birds circled the towers.  They appeared to be witnessing the inhumanity of the Terrorists, the ugliness of human Terrorism ravishing the innocent.   They must be doves, I thought, or gulls, or pigeons. My mind raced to identify them.   In the pain of watching so many human sacrifices, I wanted them to be symbols from Nature, blessing the souls of those dying such horrible deaths, messengers of the good that comes out of the bad, of the beauty trapped in the heart of human ugliness. Perhaps they were eagles, I thought, stretching my imagination to its extremes.
       Then it dawned on me. 
       The flock of birds swirling about the Twin Towers weren’t pigeons or doves or eagles or peregrines.  The fluttering wings I thought I saw ringing the orange-black kerosene fueled balls of fire were simply  millions of pieces of paper sucked out of the burning building when the Terrorists' plane smashed into them.  Each piece of paper was caught in the vortex created by up and down drafts creating a whirlwind.  A moment earlier I wanted to believe that a touch of beauty was blessing the horror unfolding.  My heart sank. I felt the Beast of Reality’s icy hand on my shoulder. 
        My “Eagles of Vigilance,” my “Doves of Vigilance,” my “Raptors of Vigilance” were mere thin pieces of paper caught in the maelstrom, forming a halo spinning about the axis of the enflamed Twin Towers.  I stood watching, frozen.   

       Then the buildings collapsed.   A great roar rumbled as the building split for a eternal second, seemingly hanging in mid air before it fell down like a bomb, exploding and crushing all beneath it.  I clutched a group of women next to me and shoved them against a wall for protection and waited for Hell's wrath to descend.
      Stumbling out of the ash, I found a spot and sat and began to write on my laptop.  I knew this was a historic moment in the history of modern civilization and wanted to capture every feeling I had, to reflect every emotion, paint the scenes unfolding before me in the fog of Terror's wake.
        As the clouds of hellish destruction reigned down, so did the millions of pieces of paper once the conduits of communication by civilization.   They fell without fanfare, leavened by the weight of the damp concrete ash that formed a death mask on all it touched.   White paper rain drops, turned the color of death, flopped to the ground silently.   They were now the feathers of Terrorism--empty, lifeless ashen pulp--the pages of history ripped from their private libraries, sent to the winds of destruction.  I remember being surrounded by them, written in all various languages, some of them charred, others ragged, some untouched smothered in the snow of ash that covered me, my computer and America's Complacency that it could be attacked.

        In the days that followed, the impact of Nine Eleven grew thicker and harder in my mind.  It pushed my mind toward revenge, hatred, retaliation.  As I began to boil inside,  I thought of those "flying papers."  I thought of the "vision" I had they were "signs," messengers flying around as though to tell the world that the deaths of those who died that day had not gone unnoticed, that they were not in vain.
        Native Americans call what I thought were "Birds of Vigilance" a “sign.”   The paper flock, I decided, were truly Eagles of Vigilance, Raptors of Vigilance, Doves of Vigilance.  The “wings” that soared around girth of the burning Twin Towers that day were, I decided, just as real as the “eagles”  the Zuni dancers brought back to life as they danced in the rotunda of the Customs House yesterday, 430 days post Ground Zero.
        The eagle is a sign of Vigilance to Native Americans.  It contains great power and wisdom, as well as vision to see that which is blinded to those without the “eagle’s eyes.”  I considered the Zuni’s “Eagle Dance” a way of reminding us all to be “Eagles of Vigilance,” to rise above our Fear, Intimidation and Complacency on the wings of Courage, Conviction and Right Actions—the feathers of Vigilance.  As the Zunis had escaped being trampled by the Terrors of Westernization, and like the Swedish remained "neutral" to the wraths of war, they were the mediators between Vigilance and Terrorism.   They were not unlike Hans Blix, the Swedish head of the U.N. Weapons Inspection team--responsible for carrying the message between Terrorism and Vigilance in hopes war and more violence could be avoided.
        The Zunis were in charge of the eagle feathers--the prayer petitions to Heaven.  They were responsible for bringing the Sentinels of Vigilance to earth, to keep them alive and well in the minds of us all.
        Following the Eagle Dance came the Pottery Dance.  It was performed by young Zuni women.   They danced with an intricately painted pot on their head, and maze (corn) in their hands.   The dance preserved the legacy of bringing water to the village. The pots were painted using brushes from the yucca plant.

  In ancient days the women would fill the pots with water from the creek or river and walk with it atop their head, never spilling a drop.   Water was purity.   Water was precious.  It was entrusted to the most innocent of the tribe—the young women who danced must at peace and content with themselves otherwise the pot would fall.  I watched the oldest of the women pause before she stepped onto the platform.  She kissed the pot before placing it on her head, an act of reverence for the liquid that brought life to the land and the people.  I thought of Vigilance as cool drink to a parched throat scorched by inhaling too much Terrorism.
        As the women danced there was that omnipresent concern among the onlookers one of the pots might fall off their head.  They moved in circles, their legs moving up and down as they kept cadence to the drumbeat.   Their bodies leaned left and right, but the pots remained straight, as though held in place by invisible hands.

Cellicion Women performing the Pottery Dance

      I thought of the souls of those who died on Nine Eleven.  I imagined their souls as the treasure inside the pots.    The young Zuni women were giving life to death, bringing water to the parched, bloody soil of Ground Zero in a ritualistic manner.    They could not afford Fear, Intimidation or Complacency or the pots would teeter and fall from their heads.   Their belief in the power of the water and its ability to fertilize life overpowered the Beast of Terror who fruitlessly sought to impair their balance, to trip their Courage, Conviction and Right Actions that balanced the pots atop their heads.  The Beast of Terror would rather the ground remain charred and barren than grow rich and fruitful.  The Zuni dancers drowned the Beast's wishes.
      Finally, there was the Star Dance.
      Together the men and women of the Cellicion family performed it.  Stars, we were told, were created by the Great Spirit to protect and guide people.  They are also the footprints of souls who have gone on before us, heading toward the Milky Way where they will meet their Creator.   Shooting stars are symbols of those who are dying.  

The Star Dance

      The dancers wore head dresses representing the morning, evening and North star.  There was a black and white pattern arcing over the headdress representing the Milky Way.  I thought of the nearly 3,000 stars circling Ground Zero, and that upon each death at the hands of Terrorism a star fell from the sky, igniting Heaven.   
      As the Zunis danced, I thought of one of the great Paintings of Vigilance. It is of an Algonquin Indian on one knee, his bow strung taut, an arrow balanced on the guide of the bow.

  He is aiming up at the stars.   Legend has it he was chided for trying to shoot down a star.   He responded, “one must reach beyond the limitations of gravity, and dream beyond.”
     I thought of the reverence to the stars represented by the Zuni's dance.  The stars are the children’s children’s children.    They are the diamonds in the sky--the hope that our future will be rid of Terror.
      I am sometimes torn with doubt that people will accept the presence of the Sentinels of Vigilance hovering over Ground Zero, or believe that by signing and subscribing to the Pledge of Vigilance they can chase Terror out of their children's minds and teach them Courage over Fear, Confidence in the face of Intimidation and Right Actions versus Complacency.
       Sometimes the yoke of my own doubts crush me into thinking how futile it is to "shoot for the stars," to try and get the world to say: "Semper Vigilantes"--Always Vigilant rather than turning over the duty to protect their children and loved ones to others such as the government.  

          I sometimes wonder if I can "hit the stars with my arrow.
         Thankfully, the Zuni Indians know I can.
         They know the world as we see it isn’t what it is.
         They know the world as it can be has been seen.
         It is seen through the eagle’s eye.  It is in the shape of a water pot.  It is a star twinkling above.  It is a shooting star.  Watching the Zuni family dance, reinforced the importance of believing in the Sentinels of Vigilance.
         When I saw the “paper” swirling around the Twin Towers on Nine Eleven, I was absolutely convinced they were Birds of Vigilance, providing humanity with a sign that out of the fires of Hell comes the Feathers of Peace, out of the Bowels of Terrorism comes the Fruits of Vigilance.

         The Zuni Indians did not dance to remember the white man’s mistreatment of them, or to perpetuate the Trail of Tears where thousands of Native Americans were forced to march from their homeland to reservations, and countless numbers died along the way.

        The Zuni’s put honoring Terrorism with Terrorism to the side.  They were the brokers of peace, the Sentinels of Vigilance in living form.
         They danced for Vigilance not against Terrorism.
         They danced to promote the mysteries of legends, the same kind of legends that makes the Sentinels of Vigilance alive and well and hovering over Ground Zero.  The kind of Vigilance that keeps the memory of a loved one lost in battle or war close to the heart.
         They danced to preserve the belief every person on earth can put an arrow in the Bow of Vigilance and shoot it at the stars.

         They danced to make the Eagles of Vigilance soar.






Nov. 16--Grandfather of Vigilance Walks Into Jaws of Terror

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