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Terrorist attack touches Indian country

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have touched every segment of America. Ethnic, political and ideological lines were erased in an instant in a tragedy that affected all Americans. Indian country is certainly no exception.

Perhaps one of the most outwardly symbolic institutions of Indian country, the Smithsonian run National Museum for the American Indian's (NMAI) Gustav Heye Center, is only a few blocks from the twin towers of the World Trade Center destroyed Sept. 11. The Heye Center houses some of the most prized American Indian artifacts in the United States.

NMAI deputy director Doug Evelyn said, via telephone from Washington, that he initially had problems reaching the Heye Center. Most telephone and cell phone transmissions were cut off as a result of the destruction of the towers on which a major cell phone relay antenna was brought down.

Evelyn confirmed that all employees of the Smithsonian-run museum had been dismissed for the day at 10 a.m. EST.

Evelyn said he does not know for sure whether the Heye Center employees were forced to evacuate earlier, but confirms that the Washington, D.C.-based employees were safely dismissed at that time.

"Unfortunately, I don't know the sequence of events in New York. Since most of lower Manhattan has been shrouded in rubble and ash, we've been having difficulty even getting through to confirm that all of our employees are all right," said Evelyn.

A little later an NMAI e-mail communication obtained by Indian Country Today was able to confirm the safety of most Heye Center key personnel and described them as "fine but shaken up."

Additionally the e-mail stated that federal marshals, normally assigned to the nearby Bankruptcy Court, and the Federal Protective Services assisted Heye Center internal security who stayed in the building throughout the night and that the "collections are intact and fine."

It is unclear when the museum may reopen, though museum officials say the Heye Center will definitely be closed for at least a week.

Several of the nation's tribal leaders expressed sorrow, disbelief and anger from the nation's tribal leaders. Over 300 of them were in Washington, D.C., for a meeting at the Hyatt hotel.

Ron Allen, chairman of Washington state's Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe said the blast was not heard by the assembled tribal leaders since the meeting took place several floors below ground level, but soon had to evacuate the area after rumors of a car bomb at the nearby State Department building.

"I condemn anybody who did this and anyone who supports them. This is nothing short of an all out war against the United States and we need to retaliate immediately and in kind. That's what I think,' San Pasqual Chairman Allen Lawson said.

"Bush's father had the guts to hit these guys and I hope that he'll do it, too."

"Been chatting with the board about this horrific tragedy that I wouldn't want to happen to anyone,' Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said. 'Our prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones. We've been discussing, though it's not official yet, to ask other tribal leaders to join with us in considering sending supplies to the Red Cross. We had a huge fire at Pechanga last year and the Red Cross came on the scene and helped our people when they were in need.

'We're just in shock here because the magnitude was so great. The violence, the suddenness, the cowardice, it's just unbelievable."

S'Klallam Chairman Allen responded from Washington, D.C., with about 300 other tribal leaders. 'The attack happened not far from where we were meeting at the Hyatt here. We were stunned and without a doubt in mourning. That kind of terrorism is appalling. I can't believe that people would take such drastic measures.

'We have serious problems in Indian country but I'm not sure we can measure it against the loss of all those lives, tens of thousands of lives. All this to make some kind of international statement. It defies rationality."

Agua Caliente Chairman Richard Milanovich reported that, "Naturally I'm shocked and we're all shocked. When I saw this on TV, my heart goes out to all those innocent people. This is so broadly spaced and has touched us all. My son has a friend who was flying back from Boston today and we're not sure if he was on that flight. We haven't heard anything from him yet," he said on Tuesday.

In a press release, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians noted, "This is a terrible and sad day in American history. The entire community ? sends our deepest condolences to the families of the people who lost their lives this morning in the heinous, demented terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

'We pray for the continued safety of the president, that of his family as well as our leaders and all Americans everywhere. We also send our heartfelt prayers for the families of the victims and the medical and rescue workers who are working under extraordinary conditions to locate and care for the survivors.

'As in every major crisis that this country has faced, we stand with all of America in offering our resources and support in every way. We have contacted the Riverside/San Bernardino Blood Bank to arrange for a special blood drive to be organized immediately on our reservation and in surrounding communities for the victims in New York and Washington.

'We were inspired by the people of New York who, within an hour of the terrorists' attacks, lined up outside St. Vincent's Hospital to give blood. It is good to remember that in the face of cruelty and hate that there are still good people in our world willing to do the right thing.

'These attacks are unprecedented tragedies of horrific scale and mark a day in United States history that will be remembered forever. America will never be the same after this day and that makes it all the more important that we work together.

'It is tragic that anyone still believes that violence and the taking of human life is an acceptable choice in resolving any differences. We pray that our country's leadership will chart a course that will do what is necessary to deliver justice and provide for peace for our families and children."