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September attacks inspire quilts

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BROCKTON, Mont. ? Vera Big Talk not only shows her patriotism on her sleeve, but on her star quilts, as well.

With the help of friends and relatives, the Fort Peck Indian Reservation resident recently completed two queen-size satin quilts she wants personally to present to the mayors of Washington, D.C., and New York City. The gifts, which she hopes the mayors will display in their respective city halls, are designed as American Indian memorials to the victims of last September's terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers.

Big Talk, 56, says she embarked on the project after watching the tragedies on television and listening to her 14-year-old grandson, William "Georgie" Big Talk, wonder aloud what it would be like to lose his grandparents in the explosions. That touched a nerve with Big Talk, and she decided to dedicate some of her handiwork in honor of the Sept. 11 casualties.

"I thought I should make something, instead of just writing a letter or something like that," she says. "Native Americans have a lot of good feelings about everyone. That's the way it should be. There should be unity between the races. So that's what this is about."

The quilt to be given to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has red, white and blue edging that Big Talk says depicts the freedom and liberty of the American people. It is adorned with a sacred white buffalo with background "the color of the big skies of Montana and the color of Mother Earth's life-sustaining water," she explains. Four flags representing the four sacred directions of life, two tipis representing the destroyed twin towers and two peace pipes representing "prayers, peace and unity for all life" are also featured, as well as four feathers ? one for each of the thousand lives estimated to be lost in the two cities.

The second quilt, its center adorned with a bald eagle, is to go to District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams. The eagle, she says, "represents our sacred way of life of our country, freedom and prosperity for all." The quilt also contains the four feathers and the four American flags.

"As a Native American people, we have felt the devastating impact that the terrorist attacks have brought to our Mother Earth," Big Talk says. "She weeps for her children who were lost that day. We must dry her tears by sharing our love for the people of New York City, Washington, D.C., and with all humanity. We must replace acts of violence with acts of love and love of our country for all the world to see."

Big Talk, who was nursing a broken hand last fall, got help sewing from two of her sisters, Beverly Bird and Christina Simon, and a non-Indian friend in the neighboring town of Froid. The project has been formally endorsed in recent weeks by Fort Peck Tribal Chairman Arlyn Headdress, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Chippewa-Cree Tribal Chairman Alvin Windy Boy, and the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council. Montana Gov. Judy Martz also met with Big Talk and her husband in late December and issued her own encouragement.

"The governor was really impressed with the story behind the quilts," Big Talk says. "The story is written from our hearts."

Big Talk, the mother of three grown children, also was invited to the Fort Berthold Reservation last month to join a reception for Tex Hall, the newly elected chairman of the National Congress of American Indians. While there, she also picked up Hall's endorsement.

If she can raise enough money for the trip, Big Talk, who has never been further east than North Dakota, hopes to travel to Washington, D.C., by train early next month to give the quilt to Williams. She then wants to be in New York by Feb. 11 to present the second quilt to Bloomberg and to pray near the rubble of the World Trade Center towers.

"That's a lot of people who died," she says solemnly. "What if your mother went to work there and never came home? What if you didn't have anything to bury? Their families are hurting bad there, and I can feel it. I would like to pray with people. I would like to say a prayer and have a moment of silence."

Big Talk, who must use an oxygen tank because of illness, says she wants her husband and adopted brother to make the trip with her if possible. The trio needs about $800 more to finance the venture, which she hopes can be raised through donations. To help, donations can be sent to the family at P.O. Box 141, Brockton, MT 59213. They can be reached by phone at (406) 786-3197.

"Soon as I get enough funding, I'll be over there," Big Talk says of her upcoming trip. "I'm getting cards and letters from all over the country. Their feelings are the same about the tragedy as mine. They're in support of what I'm doing."