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2009 Winter Solstice

December 21st marked an important event – Winter Solstice. I have often heard various explanations of the significance of this date over the years and throughout my life but only until recently did it all really begin to make sense. Since joining the staff of the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum I had learned more about solstices than I ever thought I would! I grew to understand how the winter and summer solstice play an important role in the landscape architecture of the site. I learned that the west passage tunnel, which cuts through the mound, aligned with the setting of the sun during winter solstice. I learned that the peak of the promontory mound marked the sun during summer solstice. I also learned that the entrance gate being built at the site marks the middle point between the two solstices – the equinox. I knew these things in an intellectual way and yet I didn’t feel it in my heart. I recognized how unique this was and I understood the meaning, but I didn’t truly feel an emotional connection – that is until this year.

As all of us were gathered in the Visitor’s Center and as we sipped hot chocolate and snacked on delicious traditionally-prepared foods, images taken of the sun setting in the center of the tunnel scrolled across a large monitor for all to see. The images of the sun bursting through the tunnel were breath-catching and reminded me how distinct and truly native our site and its architecture are. Close to the time of the setting sun, we all gathered to hear a beautiful song by Mr. Johnny Kimble, a Ponca singer and elder. There in that moment, as the sun was setting and we were listening to the song and the drum, all gathered together, it hit me! We were creating a new ceremony around this solstice. We were marking this day and this time with our presence and our participation. When I look back on that day, I will remember the shortest day of the year in 2009, I will remember where I was, where the sun was; I will remember all of us gathered together in good spirits. The spirit of that moment permeated all of us – native and non-native. We came together to share in an ancient practice and we all shared it together in a new way. That is what the AICCM will be about – about rising from the ashes, about coming together, about sharing, about honoring each other and honoring this earth we live on together. Maybe it was the hot chocolate spiced with chili, but for a moment, as the sun was setting on the shortest day of the year – I understood more fully why we mark events like this and one of the most important things seemed to be that we mark them together. They become a part of our collective memory and they remind us of what has passed and what is to yet to come. Native people have understood the importance of this for thousands of years and thus created calendars on the earth’s landscape. Here in Oklahoma, we are flaming the embers of an ancient fire. And on December 21, 2009 I was honored to be standing amongst so many wonderful people in the heart of Okla Homma, at the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum.

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