Indians perform healing ceremony near Nina replica

Sunday, November 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ A group of American Indians performed a healing ceremony near a replica of Christopher Columbus' ship, the Nina, on Saturday.

Local police and Muskogee County sheriff's deputies looked on as the group of more than two dozen formed a circle and prayed at Three Forks Landing on the Port of Muskogee. No one was arrested.

``It's unfortunate that this has been taken the wrong way by some people,'' said JoKay Dowell, a Cookson resident who organized the gathering. ``We're here to speak the truth and offer our prayers to everyone.''

Dowell said American Indians blame Columbus for the ancestors' suffering after his arrival in the Americas. The Vikings came to America before Columbus and lived peacefully with the Indians, she said.

``But when Columbus came in 1492, he came with a different purpose, a different spirit _ a spirit of conquest,'' Dowell said.

Nina Capt. Jeff Heuer said Saturday's healing ceremony was much more peaceful than some of the protests by American Indians his crew has encountered in the past.

``Unfortunately, it's become part of the routine,'' Heuer said. ``I understand their point in a way, but they have to understand that Columbus never actually set foot here. He sailed to the Caribbean.''

Explorers who followed Columbus ended up doing wrong to the American Indians, but to blame him personally would be unfair, Heuer said.

``The only way to battle that attitude is to educate people, and that's what we're here for,'' he said.

Still, Dowell said to many American Indians, Columbus represents the beginning of American Indian suffering that continues today.

The group encircled a kettle fire that burned twigs and dry leaves as Kelly Anquoe, a Tahlequah resident of Kiowa and Cherokee descent, sang a song from his heritage.

Tulsa resident Clark Inkanish fanned the flames with a bird's wing and gazed up to the sky, asking God for ``healing and strength for all people.''

He tossed bits of cedar and tobacco into the hot kettle and stepped back as each person lined up to be blessed in the billowing smoke.

The Nina is a detailed, foot-by-foot copy of Columbus' favorite vessel. Made by Brazilian shipwrights, it is owned by the Columbus Foundation, which sends the ship all over the world to educate people about the Great Age of Discovery.

The replica has been docked in Muskogee for a month and will set sail for the Grand Cayman Islands to spend the winter after Thanksgiving.