Twins raise funds for reunion: 9/11 babies will converge on NYC

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FAITH, S.D. - Twins born in South Dakota will be part of a reunion of babies from across the United States born on Sept. 11, 2001.

A selection of babies born on 9/11 were featured in the book "Faces of Hope," written by Christine Pisera Naman. All the babies included in the book and their families will gather for a giant birthday party at the Crown Plaza Hotel on Times Square in New York this August. Katie and Kathie Johnson from South Dakota are the only American Indians included in the book.

Kalli Johnson, mother of the twins, members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is trying to raise money for the trip by selling original artwork, including quilts made by her mother. Kalli makes a variety of artwork from hide paintings to bead work.

The toddlers also help, mostly unknowingly, by dancing at pow wows where blanket dances are held in their honor. The two, jingle dress dancers, took to the pow wow circuit like they were born for it. Johnson said the two know all the proper moves and postures and instead of feathers in their free hand they carry bottles.

"They will dance all day. They dance with the Traditional dancers, grass dancers and anyone. They even dance when they are the only ones in the arena and make their own music. Katie can sing in Lakota," Johnson said.

What may be unique about the two is that many elders who have visited the Johnson home say the twins have the reincarnated souls of their ancestors. They are even called the "little grandmas" by the elders.

Without much prompting or teaching the two can speak a few words of Lakota, and no one, Johnson said, taught them the protocol for jingle dress dances. She says they were born with the knowledge.

In Lakota the word for twins is Chekpa. A person said to have been born with a reincarnated soul is also called a Chekpa or a twin. So there are really two sets of twins within Katie and Kathie.

This summer the two will be honored at a naming ceremony, where the name White Dove will be given to them. They will both have the same name for awhile, Johnson said.

Her dream is to be able to receive this honor to represent her family and the tribe at the gathering in New York, but she has not yet committed to attend the reunion. It all depends on money.

The trip for her and the twins, her husband Bill, her mother and her five other children will cost in excess of $7,000. The price includes the hotel, airfare, the banquet cost and other meals and incidentals while in New York.

"I panicked at the price. I can feed and clothe my kids for a year on that much money. The hotel is $318 per night and we need more than one room. The buffet will be $31 per child and $63 for the adults. We would have had help from the airlines, but it went into bankruptcy," Johnson said.

For farmers who experienced two drought years in a row, with no federal aid they can't just write a check or even ask the bank for credit to make the trip. Operating a farm in the drought area of South Dakota is very scary at this time. Johnson said they didn't even start their combine this past fall because there were no crops. And a triple planting in a previous year didn't yield much profit. Another year like the last two and their farming days are over.

They farm 1,500 acres on and adjacent to the Cheyenne River Reservation.

In fact, the bank has put her and Bill on a policy that allows them to write checks for essential items and for farm seed and materials. And of course that money has to be repaid when crops are harvested.

In order to survive, Bill took a job as a truck driver - a job that takes him away from home for up to three months as a time.

At a recent cultural weekend in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation, the twins were honored with a blanket collection at the pow wow. The drum group and the pow wow emcee, Tom Iron donated their earnings. The total gathered for the twins was $148 dollars.

At that rate, there will have to be a lot of pow wows between now and August to get the family to New York.

Johnson is brainstorming to find ways to raise money. Turning over a clock made from rawhide to a casino is one idea. She has another work that has the emblem of a casino and she hopes they will be interested in buying it.

The family plans to offer lunches, sell artwork in the lobby and entrance to a grocery store and Johnson's mother will make and sell star quilts for the twins.

"I hate that my girls may not go and be the only ones that don't go and not have South Dakota represented," Johnson said.

And then, the thought of going to a large city is also grounds for panic for Johnson. She has never been to a metropolitan area. But, at the same time she looks at this as a major opportunity for all of her children and the family. "It's something they will always remember."

Johnson comes from a family with historic ties to the Cheyenne River Reservation. Her great-grandfather Joseph Crow Feather was a signatory on many documents between the Lakota people and the federal government.

The "little grandmas" are part of the generation that could bring hope to a beleaguered reservation in South Dakota. The two are already culturally aware at 19-months of age, because they are Chekpa, they bring good news.

Pisera Naman was inspired to write the compilation of photos and stories about the children of 9/11 after she wrote a birth letter to her son Trevor. Her two other children's letters were not as long.

"There was a lot more to write about. It came from a unique perspective. There were tears of sadness and joy all in one day, I saw the need to go on more than ever," she said.

She said she looked on the Internet for 9/11 births and when she found one she stopped and got the information.

The average birth rate on a daily basis in the United States is between 5,000 and 6,000. Only 50 appeared in her book.

If anyone knows of an organization or has the ability to help the Johnson family fulfill a dream trip to New York, Kalli can be reached at (605) 967-2815.