photo and story by Kami Kanetsuka
“We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, represent a global alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children, and for the next seven generations to come. We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth and the destruction of indigenous ways of life. We believe the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future. We look to further our vision through the realization of projects that protect our diverse cultures: lands, medicines, language and ceremonial ways of prayer and through projects that educate and nurture our children.”
Imagine a country where “when the Grandmothers speak, the president listens.” That is how it is in Gabon, Africa, where Bernadette Rebienot comes from. Grandmother Bernadette is one of the Thirteen International Indigenous Grandmothers – shamans, medicine women and healers – brought together through visions and prophecies.
For centuries, prophesies from different traditions have foretold the coming together of the Grandmothers. Unaware of these prophecies, North American spiritual teacher Jyoti had been praying for a way to preserve the teachings of indigenous people and make them more accessible. After receiving a powerful vision and dreaming of 13 elders around a table, she was compelled to pursue the vision. While visiting Bernadette Rebienot, a shaman in Gabon, she mentioned the dream. Bernadette had had a similar dream and said, “The time is now; we must manifest it.”
With the help of Jyoti’s spiritual community Kayumari, 16 letters went out across the globe to holders of indigenous teachings. The 13 grandmothers who accepted came from Africa, Brazil, Tibet, Nepal, Mexico, Central and North America. Many of them had experienced their own version of the vision. The first gathering took place in 2004 in upstate New York. At that time, the Grandmothers decided to become an alliance and meet in council and prayer twice annually. Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker and Luisah Teish were also present at the first gathering.
For some years, I had been hearing about these Grandmothers. I heard prophecies such as, “When the Grandmothers speak, the world will be changed.” I knew it was time to connect with them when I met an indigenous woman, Maria Teresa, last winter in Mexico and she showed a film about the Grandmothers’ visit to Dharamsala, India, the exiled home of Tibetan grandmother Tsering Dolma Gyaltong, now living in Toronto. During that visit, the Grandmothers were presented to the Dalai Lama who commended their work.
In August, I attended the 6th International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers in Lincoln City, Oregon. The gathering took place in honour of Agnes Baker Pilgrim, considered a living cultural legend of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Grandmother Agnes has restored the Sacred Salmon Ceremony and there now appears to be more salmon in the river. (Sadly Grandmother Bernadette could not attend this council, as the president of Gabon had died and she was needed in her country.)
Witnessing the combined knowledge of these wisdom keepers, which embodies centuries of ancient teachings, was very moving, as most of these Grandmothers had worked through historical trauma and other trials and hardships. In their home countries, they work with people with AIDS and with those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and people who are ill. They also mentor youth at risk.
To avoid any kind of hierarchy, the Grandmothers sat at a round table. Approximately 300 people were in attendance, including many young people with children and babies and also many men, which showed a real affirmation of their work. During the week, many significant stories were related, including how when Grandmother Rita, a Yup’ik from Alaska, was nine, her great-grandmother gave her 13 stones and 13 eagle feathers and told her when she was her age she would “sit with a council of elders.” At the first meeting, Grandmother Rita gave the others the stones and feathers, saying, “We’re late, but we’re here.”
Elders, water, ancestors and the Earth – these were the celebrated themes at this council. Each day at sunrise, at midday and in the evening, one of the Grandmothers offered her ceremony. Any differences between traditions fell away, as each ceremony blessed the elements of earth, air, fire and water. Afterward, the Grandmother acknowledged the others with great respect.
On the day of honouring water, which Grandmother Agnes calls Earth Mother’s blood, it was suggested that those who wanted to bathe in the ocean proceed slowly and reverently rather than rushing in. After the ceremony, the shore was lined with people prayerfully entering the ocean, surrounded by flower offerings reminiscent of Balinese ceremonies.
The Grandmothers are speaking to us loudly and clearly, through words, prayer and action. They are offering their teachings and plant medicines for others to respectfully use for healing and they entreat us to connect with nature and find our own personal gifts to offer the world. In these difficult times, with the Grandmothers leading the way, we now have the opportunity to truly become one tribe.
The 7th Council gathering takes place Dec. 3-7, 2009, in Sedona, Arizona. For more information about the Grandmothers:www.grandmotherscouncil.com Info for the film For the Next 7 Generations:www.forthenext7generations.com Books: Grandmothers Counsel the Worldby Carol Schaeffer