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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Graci Horne goes to Baghdad to pray for peace


by (Editor's note: The following is taken from Elle Girl Magazine, August 2004 issue, Global Girl feature, page 52. Hapistinna Graci Horne is an enrolled SWO Tribal member. She is the daughter of Paula Horne. Graci is also head of the Wolakota Youth Council and very much involved in youth affairs at Grass Dance, S.D.)


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I grew up in Minnesota and I'll be a freshman at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia this fall. Both places are a long way from the Middle East, but when my dad, Chief Arvol Looking Horse got a chance to go to Iraq, I immediately wanted to join him. Beloved Community, an educational church group organized a trip for spiritual leaders to go to Baghdad and asked my dad to be the Native American representative. He invited me to accompany him on behalf of the youth (I'm Lakota/Dakota). Before we left, I went to a local drugstore where I'd applied for a job, to let the manager know I'd have to postpone my interview. She said, "I think they should blow up Iraq and start all over." That gave me even more drive to go, to educate myself and others about Iraqi People and culture.

We flew to Amman, Jordan, where we met up with 11 other international peace activists. The plan was to stay overnight, then take a car across the border to Iraq the next morning. That evening, as we were checking in to our hotel in Amman, a car bomb blew up the Mount Lebanon hotel in Central Baghdad, killing 27 people. The hotel, popular among foreign visitors, was only two blocks away from where we would be staying. I was terrified, but I knew Iraq needed our prayers.

When we got to Baghdad, ruined buildings were everywhere – we all coughed constantly because the air was filled with dust. Our first stop was an arts center for kids, which encouraged then them to get creative instead of dwelling on the chaos around them. A Russian Shaman from our group got the kids happily twirling to prayer dances. Some little Iraqi girls I talked to kept saying, "I love you, I love you" -- the only English they knew. It was so cute!

Because of my skin tone, people thought I was Iraqi. When I explained that I was Native American, they said, "Oh, you're a soldier?" If I said I was Indian, they thought I was Hindi. Finally, someone told me to say I'm Asli, which means Indigenous. One day, I got in trouble at the Jordanian border crossing because I was using my video camera. When I was pulled into a general's office, he asked where I was from. I said I was Asli American. He said I was the first Asli American he'd ever seen. I said, "Well, take a good look!" and he started laughing.

Before I went to Iraq, I didn't really support the American Soldiers. My opinion was that we should help the Iraqis, but our troops shouldn't be over there. Still, when I saw the soldiers in Baghdad, my heart went out to them. My bad feelings disappeared - I know that everyone of them had a reason for being there, whether to defend their country or to put themselves though college with military scholarships.

On our last day in Iraq, we performed a peace ceremony at the bombed-out International Baghdad Theater. There were about 30 representatives of different religions participating. Three young Sunni Muslims led a singing and drumming prayer on huge hand drums. It was enchanting -- the rhythms started off really slow, then got faster. I drifted into their music and forgot that I surrounded by rubble.

Afterward, we went outside and discovered we were causing a scene - people were stopping and staring at us. As we planted a wooden peace pole that said May Peace Prevail in languages from around the world two guys pulled up in a car and started yelling at us in Arabic. Our security guards pointed their guns at them, and we all got really quiet. Then the guys in the care took off. It was really intense.

That night I got to visit our driver Sahili's family in New Baghdad, a neighborhood near the army base. Sahili's wife Jennifer, his mother, brother and sister-in-law treated me like family. Jennifer was learning English and she wrote to me a note that read: "My name is Jennifer, thank you for coming, don't forget me. I love you. Love, Jennifer." I keep that note with me always, and when I hear daily news of violence in Iraq. I worry about my friends.

Back at home after my journey, I'm trying to be more open, more understanding. I'm trying not to judge other people. Before this trip, I wanted to go into anthropology, but I have since decided that I want to make documentary films. I want to help people understand the similarities in all our cultures

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

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