Grandmother Margaret Behan
Red-spider woman

USA, North America


'"Even before I was born I was prayed for.  My mother wanted to have another baby, so my grandfather had a peyote ceremony. I was the third generation to be conceived through the medicine, and I have been brought up with the medicine. Peyote has been an integral part of my life."

Grandmother Margaret Behan is the fifth generation of  Sand Creek Massacre survivors. She was born into the Cheyenne Beaver Clan on her mother's side, and the Rabbit Lodge on her father's Cheyenne/Arapaho side.  After she was born, her grandfather put up a tipi and held a ceremony for her life.  "In Cheyenne, such a thing is expressed as, 'He planted prayers for me,'  Grandmother Margaret said.

Grandmother Margaret's parents were migrant workers, so she and her seven older siblings were raised by their grandparents.  "My parents were not able to be there for me," Grandmother Margaret recalls.  "But, in our culture, we don't have aunts and uncles. We have a lot of mothers and fathers, so I have been parented, even though my own [parents] often needed to be absent."

When she was 5, Grandmother Margaret was sent to boarding school. When her parents visited, they told her the tribal stories and lessons so she would remember her culture.  "My father would tell me how the Creator loved us so much that he gave us a star and the star was the fire, so we are the Star People. He also told me that the Eagle is really an angel, and I should always pray to him. These gifts from the Creator have helped me to be here now."

Margaret's mother taught her beadwork and how to make buckskin dresses for her dolls. She also taught her about the sacred designs of her tribe.  Today Margaret's dolls and sculptures have earned her many honors.

Grandmother Margaret's life was not an easy one. She began drinking at an early age because she wanted to "fit in" with her friends. She later became a battered wife with three children.

After her mother died, Grandmother Margaret's life fell apart. She went into a peyote ceremony and asked to become sober.  Soon afterwards, she began meeting sober people and knew the ceremony was working in her life. Along with her husband, she entered a treatment center. After two weeks, he left, but Margaret remained. She learned that becoming sober is a long and painful process. She also learned about herself, her understanding of Spirit, and the ceremonies.

Grandmother Margaret realized she needed to face her enemy: substance abuse.  She lived in poverty so she could afford schooling to become a substance abuse counselor. She wanted to help her own people and counsel in her own language. She also cleared up the loose ends of her life by finalizing her divorce and strengthening her relationship with her children. 

Grandmother Margaret eventually moved to Montana. She opened a taco stand, and people came to help her, seeming to be drawn by her presence.  Soon the spiritual people, who usually stay hidden and never talk to ordinary people, began to come to her and introduce her to their worlds. "I knew I was having an introduction," she says.  "I had three years of struggle, yet on the other hand, I was meeting this beautiful other world of my Cheyenne people."

During this time, Grandmother Margaret also learned about psychodrama and the ways it is similar to ceremonies and traditional ways. It became an important tool in her healing work with trauma and substance abuse. "Psychodrama has immediate results," she says.  "If someone is dealing with anger, they go through the whole process of being angry. The counselor follows them all the way through. Medicine men and women do the same thing."

Today Grandmother Margaret presents trauma and substance abuse programs across the country.  She is an author, poet, playwright, artist, and a traditional Cheyenne dancer. 

Grandmother Margaret introduced herself to the Grandmothers' Council by singing the Turtle Song, a song taught to her by her grandmother. Her vision for the Council is to free everyone from deprivation, and to free her people from alcohol and drug abuse and addition.

"It has only been the last two hundred years that we have become chemically dependent," she said.  "We can turn back to being the very powerful people we were. Powerful people are free and liberate people ... I know the ancient ways that we bring to this table from each of our traditions will make a difference."


Text adapted from "Grandmothers Council the World: Women Elders Offer Their Vision For Our Planet"
by Carol Schaefer
Trumpeter Books, 2006




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