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Native Sun News: Indigenous grandmothers meet in Montana

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Ten of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers visited Medicine Deer Rock near Lame Deer, Mont.

Lakota Unci Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance paused by her tipi at the Kenneth Beartusk Memorial Powwow Arbor on Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Reservation during the 11th meeting of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers July 26-29. PHOTOS COURTESY/NATHAN BLINDMAN

Indigenous grandmothers unite for international prayer gatherings
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

SLIM BUTTES COMMUNITY — In the wake of the 2012 International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers’ recent gathering at Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, one of two Lakota sisters on the council announced she will promote the interfaith efforts of the tribal elder women’s prayer group by hosting an upcoming meeting.

The next such event is scheduled for Katmandu, Nepal, and Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance of Slim Buttes Community on the Pine Ridge Reservation is inviting council members to Dakota Territory for the following meeting, she told Native Sun News in an exclusive interview on Aug. 9.

“The most important thing is to know one another and help one another,” said Unci Rita, as she prefers to be addressed. “I think the grandmothers that are gathered here, that they’re all taking the same way ... focused on the same issues that affect indigenous people: children, language, Mother Earth, water, climate, etcetera,” she said.

The host for the most recent 11th gathering, held July 26-29, was Margaret Behan, or Red Spider Woman, who has launched a Cheyenne Elders Council to complement her work in the international council.

During the gathering, participants helped inaugurate the local council’s T’sistsistas Sacred School, where healers of the tribe will transmit the Cheyenne traditional knowledge to tribal youth.

Ten of the 13 grandmothers from around the world, plus more than 400 other participants in the gathering, received lessons from the local medicine people on healing generational trauma, permaculture, buffalo preparation, beadwork and more.

The grandmothers prayed for relief for victims of raging wildfires in Montana that devastated thousands of acres and homes all around them as they conducted their talking circle, ceremonies and field trips in the midst of unusual drought and high temperatures reaching 101 degrees.

Due to its proximity to fire danger, Behan’s land could not be used for the event as originally planned, and the meeting was moved to the Kenneth Beartusk Memorial Powwow Arbor near Lame Deer, which in turn had to be evacuated due to fires during the gathering time.

“We offer our great thanks to the people at the St. Labre’s Indian School who have housed and fed many of the firefighters during these last weeks and who are still willing to step up and take care of our beloved grandmothers and our team during the council time,” Behan said in her invitation.

The grandmothers put out the word that donations for fire victims could be sent to the First Interstate Bank branch in Lame Deer.

A high point of the gathering was a field trip to Medicine Deer Rock.

Another was the arrival of horses and riders who took part in the Ride Home, convoked by Behan and the Cheyenne Elders Council. The mounted pilgrims culminated a 1,391-mile, seven-state journey at the grandmothers’ meeting. It began June 1 in Fort Reno, Okla., in remembrance of the 1878 Northern Cheyenne exodus from forced military relocation there.

“We didn’t see the horses until they were brought into the arbor,” Unci Rita said. “The host grandmother of the gathering led the procession in. The sight brought a lump to my throat. I felt so good when they brought the horses in. They are beautiful horses.”

Weeks earlier, when the riders traveled through Lakota country, Unci Rita hosted them with a meal at her home.

She and her sister, grandmothers councilor Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance, also hosted the 5th Council of Grandmothers gathering in June 2007, sharing a sacred Sun Dance for the fortification of prayers.

The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers was convened by the non-profit Center for Sacred Studies in 2004, in response to the mutual vision of its spiritual director, Jyoti, and African Bernadette Rebienot, president of the Association of Traditional Medicine Practitioners for Gabonese Health since 1994.

The Center for Sacred Studies is based in the northern California town of Sonoma and “dedicated to sustaining indigenous ways of life through cross-cultural spiritual practices, ministry and education.” Its work is based on “a commitment to peace and unity for all peoples.”

Addressing the members of the Council of Grandmothers from around the world for the first time, Rebienot said it felt like a dream. She had seen them while in a trance, all speaking with one voice.

Unci Rita spoke for the first time in public four years after the council’s first meeting. She had been taught by her father to keep quiet. Catholic boarding school authorities of her youth reinforced strict discipline.

Like her, other members of the council experienced paternalism and Catholic Church obligations as girls, but also received matrilineal and traditional teachings.

Besides Africa and the United States, council members hail from Brazil, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua and Tibet.

They say they feel they are fulfilling an ancestral prophecy of women’s leadership in protecting Mother Earth from resource exploitation, violence, drug abuse and the like.

They are versed in the knowledge of applications for sacred medicinal plants, including the most powerful, such as peyote, ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms and iboga.

The mission statement of the self-styled council reads:

“We 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.” Jyoti sent letters to 16 grandmothers in convoking the alliance, and when 13 answered the call, they recognized a correspondence to the 13 moon cycles of the lunar year.

In the eight years of the council’s existence, evidence has mounted that reveals it as a force for empowering reconciliation and religious freedom.

Its history is depicted in “For the Next Seven Generations,” an 85-minute documentary released in 2009 by filmmakers Carole and Bruce Hart.

Subtitled “13 Indigenous Grandmothers Weaving a World that Works,” the movie shows their visit in 2006 to the Dalai Lama, exiled in Dharamsala, India, since the Chinese takeover of Tibet – something the council members pray to reverse. During the visit, the Dalai Lama identified their experience in maternal post-partum bonding as one of the most important factors in spreading compassion on earth, the goal of his Buddhist teachings.

Mirthfully, he remarked, “Grandmother means a lot (of) experience. You can share your experience with our younger generation. If I am not a monk, I may be a grandfather.”

“The seed of my compassion comes from my mother,” he continued. “To develop compassion in society, mother’s role is very, very crucial. Meantime, in every field of human endeavor – including economy and politics – I think the female should take more roles. So that’s all.”

They voiced their gratitude for his message. However, it wasn’t all, as one delegate made clear in asking him how he could help them obtain an audience with the pope at the Vatican.

They had sent the pope a letter in 2005 requesting an audience and the Roman Catholic Church’s rescission of several papal bulls, which are medieval edicts for the subjugation of all non-Catholic beliefs.

When the grandmothers didn’t receive an answer, they traveled to a public audience scheduled in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square. Arriving to find it canceled, they planted prayers for healing and reconciliation from around the world and made a statement that all people are equal and have inherent rights.

“This is anti-Catholicism, and I have called security,” a man reprimanded them. “You are not allowed to do that.” Police stopped the prayers and the camera, until an official who had granted them a permit appeared on the scene.

They managed to deliver the pope a present along with a second copy of their letter. “But we didn’t get no response,” said an elder at the Dharamsala meeting.

“Insist,” said the Dalai Lama, advising them to write another letter and agreeing to have his staff write one in support. Then, he concluded to peals of laughter: “When you have the audience, you should behave better.”

The movie also shows a satellite video link from Dharamsala to a meeting of the non-profit Bioneers organization in California. At one point, a young man from Wyoming asked how to achieve reconciliation in the wake of his ancestors’ homesteading on Indian land.

One of the women responded, “What happened in the past, we can’t undo. What you do with that land: Make it plentiful, maybe feed the homeless, and help the people.”

Another replied, “Grandson, by you having the courage to talk to the world about your feelings – that is where the healing will start.”

Concerned with social and scientific innovation, such as revival of local organic food networks, Bioneers invited the grandmothers to a meeting at its headquarters in San Rafael, Calif., in 2008.

The council also has met in New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona and Oaxaca, Mexico.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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