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Washington, D.C. June 18-19, 2009
Kanwal Prakash Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA

The two-day National Sikh Conference, sponsored by The Kaur Foundation of Washington, D.C. in collaboration with The U.S. Library of Congress Asian Division and The Asian Division Friends Society was a shining example of the Sikh American community coming of age. Many came away with the distinct feeling of appreciation and confidence that the Sikhs in diaspora are at an unimagined and exciting new crossroads. The historic event took place at the magnificent and ornate Jefferson Building and James Madison Memorial Building near the U.S. Capitol.

The Conference with its timely theme of “Taking Heritage into the 21st Century” accomplished much beyond a “Celebration of Sikh Traditions, Heritage, and Arts.” It included the Sikh Collection Initiative: a permanent installation of over 87 books on Sikh history, literature and the arts, scriptures and classics in English and Punjabi in the Library of Congress. The powerful presentations and panel discussions inspired new imaginative and creative thoughts as to how we can preserve and present the Sikh heritage to America and the world; secure a rightful place and advance our talents, dreams, and legitimate concerns as Americans; and develop networking and collaborations for our shared interests. Successful men and women of exemplary discipline and passion, contributing and excelling in various fields and international endeavors who are serving humanity in unique and significant ways were introduced in panel discussions.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CONFERENCE: The Sessions, National Anthem, Dinner Reception

Portraits of Courage; Achievements of Extraordinary Sikh Women in Art; an incredible rendition of the American National Anthem by Ms. Soni Sarin, accompanied by Bishen Singh on the Tabla and Marija Temo on the Dilruba; A Journey: Photography Exhibit; The Court of Lahore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh; Sikh Royal Artifacts and the V&A Museum Collection; The Last Maharaja, Life & Times of Duleep Singh; Scaling New Heights: The Role and Contributions of Sikh American CEOs & Industry Leaders; The Importance of Establishing Sikh Chairs in Universities; Enriching the Fabric of American Society since 1899… a vision of tomorrow. A sumptuous Indian Dinner surrounded by an exhibit of Sikh pioneers and iconic figures in the richly-embellished halls of the historic Thomas Jefferson Building was a delicious touch.


Honorable Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland); Honorable Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana); Honorable Congressman Mike Honda (D-California); Honorable Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) addressed the Conference. Special messages for the occasion from Mr. James Billington, The Librarian of Congress; Mr. Peter Young, Chief, Asian Division; Mr. Adrian M. Fenty, Mayor, District of Columbia; The “Sikh Heritage Week Recognition Resolution of 2009” by the Council of District of Columbia, biographies of the honored guests, major participants and presenters, list of sponsors, and other details of the National Sikh Conference adorned the pages of an exquisitely printed Program.


H.E. Navtej Sarna, India’s Ambassador to Israel; Mr. Kojo Nnamdi, radio personality and commentator; Dr. Paul Taylor, Smithsonian Institution, organizer of The Sikh Heritage Gallery at the Museum of Natural History; Mr. Pushpinder Singh, Executive Editor, The Nishaan Magazine; Dr. Kenneth Robbins, Board of Directors, Asian Division Friends Society; Ms. Arpana Kaur, internationally renowned artist, author and activist; The Singh Twins - Amrit & Rabindra, artists of international standing, authors and filmmakers; celebrated authors, Mr. Patwant Singh and Ms. Jyoti Rai, authors: Empire of the Sikhs; Mr. F.S. Aijazuddin, author of Sikh Portraits in the Lahore Fort and Sikh & Pahari Miniature Paintings, Principal Aitchison College Lahore; Ms. Susan Stronge, author, senior Curator V&A Museum; Mr. Christy Campbell, author and journalist; Mr. Jagdeep Singh, CEO Infinera; Mr. Daya Singh, CEO Akal Security; Dr. Kanwarjit Singh, Gates Foundation; Mr. Ranjit Singh, Deloitte; Dr. Gurinder Singh Mann, Chair Sikh Studies, University of California(SB); Padam Shri recipient and author Ajeet Cour; Mr. Sonny Caberwal, model, entrepreneur and attorney; Ms. Arpinder Kaur, airline pilot, American Airline Eagle; Ms. Valerie Kaur, writer, film maker; Architect Jasmit Singh Rangr; Mr. Bicky Singh, CEO FCSI and founder of Sikhpoint; and other dignitaries, friends and supporters of the The Kaur Foundation engaged in various disciplines and fields from around the USA and abroad attended the National Sikh Conference.
A reception at the Indian Embassy in Washington and warm welcome by the Indian Ambassador, H.E. Meera Shanker was a fitting close to the 2009 National Sikh Conference.


“To facilitate the creation of inclusive environments and to empower coming generations of Sikh Americans; believing that cultural acceptance is fundamental to developing an integrated Society.” The Kaur Foundation led by Ms. Mirin Kaur Phool and Ms. Inni Kaur Dhingra, a dedicated Board and an army of volunteers have often presented platforms for ideas and achievers that are inspirational, professional, informative, and instructive in advancing the cause and concern of Sikh Americans. The multi-generational gathering of over 300 community leaders, pioneers, and interested individuals actively participated in discussions and made their contribution to the letter and spirit of the Conference. Outstanding achievements and awaiting brilliant promise, glorious heritage and painful testimonies of Sikh history, heritage, and outstanding leaders were proudly recounted. There was a recurring message of networking and mainstreaming our energy, strengths, and experiences; preserving, celebrating and interfacing our beautiful culture, heritage, and spirit into the tapestries and traditions of the lands and communities where we live. A unifying message kept reverberating: that it is important to build, span, and reinforce bridges of friendships that enhance our collective peace and prosperity; dispel unfounded stereotype about religiously-mandated Sikh identity and sacred articles of faith that are leading to workplace harassment and incidents of unprovoked violence. Discover new ways that offer a promising framework for our common hopes, wings to our shared destiny as Americans, as members of One Human Race and Family. The Kaur Foundation’s motto and commitment: “Being the change…Building our legacy with measured steps” was at-work.


The Conference was a classroom of culture, a forum to elaborate on Sikh history and heritage, an introduction of achievers and entrepreneurs and their outstanding successes in many fields of human endeavors; it was a place to listen to distinguished leaders and their experiences and assurances and to take home some lasting memories of past glory and future challenges. There was time for networking, interludes of films, music and dance, and a delicious Punjabi feast in the exquisite setting of the beautiful Atrium of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
Here are a few details from the National Sikh Conference, “Taking Heritage into the 21st Century.” The following words and images from the multi-faceted presentations and testimonials have left a lasting echo and inspirations for us to reflect upon and creatively engage as we return to our communities and advance the message and substance of the Conference:


“Sikh Collection Initiative: our aim is to introduce this project through a presentation of lectures, manuscripts, books and art; all very valuable materials in studying and understand historical events, periods, and movements of any community.” - The Kaur Foundation

“Sikh-Americans have significantly contributed to every field of human endeavor, from technology, commerce, health, science, agriculture, to the arts, further enriching the cultural fabric of this land of immigrants.” - Mirin Kaur, Founder and President Kaur Foundation

“Partnering with this oldest Federal, cultural institution in the Nation’s capital, The Kaur Foundation has taken a significant step toward building and preserving the Sikh legacy in their new homeland.” – Congressman Mike Honda (D- California).

“Researchers coming to the library could not see (until now) what Gurumukhi looks like… (What) if some wanted to research on the language of religion?” - Inni Kaur, founding member Kaur Foundation, who helped to coordinate the collection.

The National Sikh Conference took place at a memorable venue. “The Library of Congress is a vast trove of human knowledge and a center of intercultural awareness and understanding. With over 142 million items in more than 470 languages, the Library is a central repository of all types of publications… Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, and Sikh culture is synonymous with ‘the Punjab,’ that area of India known as the melting pot. The Punjab reflects the confluence of Islamic, Sufi, and Hindu traditions, and the Library is proud to add materials to its collections reflecting the art and culture of the Sikhs and this area of the world.” – James H. Billington, The Librarian of Congress

“For some of you, today’s Conference is a chance to celebrate the wonderful multi-faceted Sikh contributions to American society. For others, today represents a chance to learn more about the Sikh heritage, history, and traditions. For all of us, however, this Conference is our opportunity to share, to learn, and to celebrate… this conference, for me, is personally meaningful and an opportunity to learn more about the extraordinary contributions of Sikh Americans to the diverse nature of our multi-cultural community.” – Peter R. Young, Chief, Asian Division, The Library of Congress.

Mr. Navtej Sarna, India’s Ambassador to Israel and author of the book, The Exile on Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of Punjab, affirmed the importance of “original documents and manuscripts from Sikh history to form a distinct collection at the Library of Congress.”


“This Event is to promote and recognize the contributions of Sikh Americans by establishing a Sikh Collection Initiative at the Library of Congress.” - Adrian M. Fenty, Mayor, District of Columbia

The Council of the District of Columbia passed a special resolution declaring June 15-21, 2009 as Sikh Heritage Week in the District that includes the national capital, Washington, D.C.

“Ending hate crimes (against any individual or group because of their ethnicity, faith or life style) in America should be a national priority. Tolerance is not good enough; we must develop a culture of respect. When anyone is diminished, it diminishes our entire community; stand up for what is right,” – Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland)

“Throughout the United States, some of the roughly one million Sikh Americans are excelling in innumerable professional, academic, entrepreneurial, and artistic fields of endeavor. The reputation of Sikhs for service to their neighbors, community, and country is well-deserved… I appreciate especially the awareness and activism of the Sikh community in the National issues of the day. In my experience, faith-based communities have become increasingly sophisticated in their understanding of the political process… The admirable stance of Sikhs who responded with patient efforts at education and calls for greater understanding set an example of resilience and courage that all Americans should appreciate and emulate.” ? Senator Richard G. Lugar (R- Indiana; ranking member U.S. Foreign Relations Committee). Full text of speech (attached).

“Do not hesitate to call us…Help us make a greater nation” ? Congressman Mike Honda

Born in Pakistan and having spent three years in India, Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) expressed deep solidarity with the Sikh concerns and promised to address them.

Pushpinder Singh, Executive Editor of Nishaan Magazine, and Dr. Kenneth Robbins, Asian Division Friends Society, brought home the incomparable “Portraits of Courage” of the Sikh Gurus and followers in defense of righteous causes. Pushpinder added, “Sikh faith was conceived in the crucible of adversity” and offers us incredible testimony of courage, sacrifices and service to humanity.

Dr. Kenneth Robbins reminded the gathering of Sikh faith tradition of righteous values: “Guru Nanak’s Sword of Knowledge, Sword of Humility, Sword of Seva, and Guru Gobind Singh’s Sword of Saint-Soldier. Sikhs see no stranger as commanded by their faith; Sikhs have sought out other people; Sikhs have championed values of equality, justice, and human dignity, consistent with American values.” These are timeless lessons and a proud legacy.

“Let us go beyond the glories of heroes in the time of Guru Nanak…How hard it must have been to go against the caste system currents” - Dr. Ajeet Cour, celebrated author and Padam Shri Award Recipient.

“(Maharaja Ranjit Singh) Singh’s consummate humanity was unique among empire-builders… Inspired by the principles of peaceful co-existence, uniquely articulated by the Sikh Gurus and firm in upholding the rights of others, he was unabashed in exercising his own.” – Patwant Singh and Jyoti Rai in The Empire of the Sikhs. This book was launched at the National Sikh Conference and authors were present to sign it.

Internationally-renowned and celebrated Sikh artists: Arpana Kaur and the Singh twins, Rabindra and Amrit led us through the creative processes in their paintings that capture people, events, and iconic images in their unique styles. The Singh Twins’ work reflects pride in heritage, the Indian and Sikh identity, universal outlook of Sikhism, and they focus on cultural identity that unites, not divides. In their choice of images and details, they get intimately and intricately involved with the world around them. Arpana Kaur’s artwork is inspired by the Indian miniatures, folkart, murals, wall paintings; her artwork and inspirations are anchored in her Sikh faith. Arpana Kaur‘s series of paintings, inspired by her being an eyewitness, on the genocide of innocent Sikhs in New Delhi in November 1984 was especially moving and brought home the inhumanity and horrific events of the time. The Singh twins’ artworks inspired by Moghul-miniature style of paintings reveal their creative genius and interpretive skills in colorful presentation full of pleasant surprises, and elements of Indian motif and their cultural roots. Their masterpiece on the Indian army’s assault at The Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of Sikh faith, in June 1984 that was featured in “The Sikh Heritage Gallery: The Legacy of the Punjab” at The Smithsonian, leaves you with a lasting sense of anguish and prayer that such sad events must never intrude the human spirit.

There were reminders of respectful conduct towards all fellow Americans; our individual and collective responsibility and moral accountability to the Republic; a sense of shared humanity and intertwined destiny as one nation as enshrined and anchored in the emblazened American Motto: “Out of many one.”
“Desire to contribute, give back … any life wherever it is lived is of equal value” Dr. Kanwarjit Singh, Gates Foundation

Dr. G.S. Mann (Chair Sikh Studies UCSB) highlighted the nature and scope of Sikh Studies at UCSB and Dr. Paul Taylor (Smithsonian Institution) discussed the importance of introducing Sikh heritage, faith, and the arts through exhibits and presentations at educational and cultural institutions as an urgent step toward greater understanding of Sikh spirit and contributions.

To underscore her milestone achievement, Arpinder Kaur, a Sikh turbaned female First Officer of American Airline Eagle, said that it is all about “Creating a positive image, creating confidence and comfort.” Arpinder added that only 2% of commercial airline pilots in the U.S. (7% in India) are women; with a firm resolve and pursuit of our goal, “everything is possible.”

I do not “Beat them (others that I work with or at the construction sites) on their heads about my (Sikh) identity;” I strive, “Finding the universals that drive us” ? Jasmeet Singh Rangr, Architect

Valarie Kaur, a third generation Sikh American, a writer and filmmaker who created the documentary, “Divided We Fall,” reminded the audience to maintaining Sikh identity, image of pride; learning from the Jewish community; seeing our endeavors as seva: film making, story-telling, fighting stereotypes, overcoming generational divides, breaking the glass ceiling, glass walls…Give us the trust and we will fly.” Valarie added, “Fearlessness, the Sikh traditions of saint and soldier, stories of faith, culture, and community; our ancestors and pioneers need to be told.”


The hard work of Mirin Kaur and Inni Kaur with their scores of friends, benefactors, and volunteers produced an exciting, informative, inspiring, and memorable National Sikh Conference. They deserve our deep gratitude and congratulations. Participants from many countries, distinguished guests, brilliant scholars, and especially the staff and leadership of the US Library of Congress immeasurably contributed to the success of this landmark event. Ideas for future collaborations inspired many.

Our history and heritage: the arts, architectural landmarks, priceless cultural and spiritual legacy are important elements of our humanity. They offer reflections of the human soul, creativity,
and imagination. The cultural and literary treasures, rare artifacts, surviving priceless records and heritage are our connection to the generations past and highlight significant markers of the human journey and creativity of a community through the ages. The artifacts of the Sikh heritage take on additional importance and an aura of "sanctity" when they are associated with persons, events, and innovations that transformed human history and our civilization. This heritage is not just brick, mortar, papers and texts; it enshrines the inspiration, wisdom, energy, and foundations of who Sikhs are and where faith-inspired greatness may lead the Sikhs.

One of the primary goals must be to inspire pride within the Sikh American community. Sikhs must interface and enter in faith with other faith and ethnic communities; build partnerships and network with local organizations and national institutions and engage the leadership at the highest level about our legitimate concerns. Sikhs must support and showcase talents, encourage the best and brightest who bring honor to the immigrant communities and the nation.

Sikhs must recognize the new frontiers of time, technology, events, and global interdependence. Sikhs should, in the spirit of gratitude, inspired by faith Commandments and lessons from a proud history, fairly and fiercely compete and excel in the unimagined “Hola Mohallas” of our times; make our Gurus and others who provide new opportunities, proud of our time and place in this journey.

To secure a rightful place for our sacred rights and culture, Sikhs must embrace American values, enrich the culture and spirit in imaginative ways, and continue to affirm that Sikhs are proud of such involvements in the lands that are their new homes. While preserving and honoring our sacred traditions and values, Sikhs must exhibit openness to growth, step out of the ethnic and cultural box into the sunshine of “One Nation under God, Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.”

The Sikh Collection Initiative and Conference at the Library of Congress and the prospect of more future collaborations at the Library and elsewhere was a landmark moment for the Sikh American community. In time, this can and should lead to myriad possibilities for incorporating outstanding achievements and Sikh culture as an integral part of American heritage. Mirin Kaur, Inni Kaur, Peter Young, Pushpinder Singh, Senators Lugar and Cardin, Congressmen Honda and Van Hollen, Dr. Paul Taylor, Bicky Singh, Valarie Kaur, the Singh twins, Sikh CEOs, educators, pioneer trailblazers, community activists and others have shown the way, and now it is up to Sikhs and friends to take the message and inspiration to new levels.

Kanwal Prakash Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA
June 27, 2009







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