the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers October 2008 Gathering
Groton/Ithaca, NY ~ Washington, DC ~ New Jersey
Pine Barrens ~ Phoenicia, NY
The autumn gathering of the Grandmothers Council was a glorious, colorful mix of events and community connections that unfolded in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York; in Washington, DC; and in New Jersey.
The Fall, 2008 Council was dreamed into being by Janet Jacobs, Sidney Moonchild and the Women’s Gathering of Groton, a visionary organization blending business, the arts, with social and spiritual activism. Eight Grandmothers attended the fall council in the Groton/Ithaca area of NY: Agnes Baker Pilgrim, Rita Blumenstein, Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance, Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance, Mona Polacca, Flordemayo, Margaret Behan, Tsering Dolma Gyaltong, along with their companions/translators. Also attending from the Center for Sacred Studies were Jyoti (Jeneane Prevatt, Ph.D/ Traveling Ambassador Charged with the Mission), Ann Rosencranz (Program Director) and Audrey Reed (Production Director). Many local residents came to assist, plus volunteers from the CSS Ministry Training Program, Stargate graduates and the Kayumari community network. A special welcoming ceremony was held in private for the Grandmothers by local First Nations. Later in the week, Woman is the First Environment Collaborative (the Reproductive Justice program at Running Strong for American Indian Youth) provided food and activities support at Crow's Hill Farm. The Grandmothers and the multigenerational gathering enjoyed regional welcoming, sweat lodges and ceremonial activities. A medicinal plants walk was led by Mohawk elders and youth who attend the Akwesasne Freedom School.
On the vast lawn behind the historic Benn Conger Inn in Groton, the Oct. 5th Opening Ceremony began on a crisp morning, filled with the scent of autumn and the song of migrating geese. The Sacred Fire received charcoal from previous Council fires, as is traditional. This time the fire was lit in the ancient bow-drill way by Firekeeper Jon Delson, (20-yr. student at Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School and Children of the Earth Foundation board member). Jon held the tinder bundle for each Grandmother to blow their breath of life onto the ‘coal child’—the tiny glowing spark; the bundle was then put into the awaiting sacred-geometry structure of firewood, which ignited instantly. Morning, noon and evening each day, the Grandmothers took turns at the Sacred Fire over the course of the week, offering prayers, rituals and songs from their traditions. On occasion, coyotes could be heard! Many local residents attended the ceremonies and teachings by the fire. (The only time it rained was one evening, but the rain stopped by the time the Grandmothers arrived back from their day’s events!) Following the Opening Fire Ceremony, a bustling brunch was held at the Inn for Grandmothers, supporters and many guests.
In the afternoon the group headed to Cornell University for “Grandmothers Speak” at Bailey Hall, with an audience of almost seven hundred. The Council walked in a procession into the hall, flanked by the 80-member Multicultural Chorus “Voices” who sang an acapella song/chant honoring Mother Earth, accompanied by a solo drum. The energy of the chorus plus the crowd’s anticipation of the Grandmothers’ arrival was amazing! Local organizations in supportive partnership included CRESP, Center for Transformative Action, and The Center for United Religious Work. The Grandmothers gathered on stage, and were joined by special guest speakers Audrey Shenandoah (Elder Clan Mother/ Onondaga), Frieda Jacques (Turtle Clan Mother), Katsi Cook (Indigenous Mid-Wife/Mohawk), and 89-yr.old author-activist Edna Gordon (Elder Clan Mother/Seneca). Scott Perez, Liaison between local First People Nations and Cornell's American Indian Program, spoke about his vision of joining technology/resource use with perspectives and philosophy of indigenous wisdom. The gathering was also blessed with a phenomenal performance by Star Nayea (two-time Native American Music Award winner). “Positive News” featured the Grandmothers on the front page, as did other local coverage. ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, Native American Alliance) hosted a reception which followed.
The remainder of the week was jam-packed with events, meetings, ceremonies, and special community meals:
■Mon. 10/6-Children’s Day---At the Elisabeth Clune Montessori School, where ten languages are spoken, scores of students and teachers welcomed the Council to their beautiful campus. Circle dancing, songs of ‘Ancient Mother’ and ‘Shalom’---brought tears to many. Students had questions, then gifts; a beautiful luncheon prepared by older students concluded the visit. Some of the food was grown in the school’s garden! Posters honoring the Earth, non-violence and global unity graced the walls. Grandmother Margaret Behan said “this school and what they are doing here gives me hope.” In the afternoon, Grandmothers and local families met with Children of the Earth Foundation Director Debbie Tremel and several instructors who came to share wilderness skills and teachings of Grandfather Stalking Wolf, the Lipan Apache elder who taught Tom Brown Jr., founder of The Tracker School. The Grandmothers Council was excited to expand relations with these schools and support their mission and ways of teaching about Mother Earth and the Sacred Circle of Life.
■Tues 10/7: Women’s Day Gathering---A brilliant blue sky and sun shone on the 400+ women gathered for a picnic at Fillmore Glen State Park, coordinated by Juanita Thompson. The Grandmothers spoke after lunch, followed by a lottery-style Q&A segment, each Grandmother receiving poignant queries. The event concluded with gifts, performances of poems and songs (one by Crow Marley), and presentation of an amazing 9’x5’ portrait-collage painting of the Grandmothers, given by French artist Minouche Graglia who was inspired to create the piece from a dream. In the evening, a large group dined at the Groton Hotel, where proprietor Jeffrey Toolan spontaneously gave a moving speech about his work with the United Nations!
■Wed. 10/8: Men’s Gathering---During the day, the Grandmothers divided into two groups. The first group (Grandmothers Tsering, Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance, Margaret and Flordemayo) visited Ithaca’s Lehman Alternative School and were hosted for a luncheon at Cornell University. The second group (Grandmothers Mona, Agnes, Beatrice and Rita Blumenstein) visited the Ithaca High School where they spoke to several American History classes about the Papal Bulls and Native American history. They were then received for lunch at the American Indian Program at Ithaca College. All Grandmothers came together for an afternoon reception at The Ithaca Department of Social Services. In the evening, the Grandmothers went to Tompkins County Community College for “The Men’s Gathering” organized by Richard Farnham. Nearly 200 hundred men attended, with opening prayers by Katsi Cook’s son Anontaks, who also served the Grandmothers’ events as a Program Associate/Intern with Woman is the First Environment Collaborative (the Reproductive Justice program at Running Strong for American Indian Youth). The evening ran two hours overtime as the men shared personal and spirited exchanges with the Grandmothers.
■Thurs. 10/ 9: Healing Day & Ithaca Communities Day---The Grandmothers were given private healings from various volunteers in the morning. After mid-day prayers, several of the Grandmothers met for a luncheon at Cornell AD White House, sponsored by President Skorton’s cabinet, while others were hosted by Ithaca College. Later in the day the Grandmothers separated into two groups: Grandmothers Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance, Mona Polacca, Agnes Pilgrim Baker and Rita Blumenstein visited the after school program at GIAC (Greater Ithaca Activities Center). The other four Grandmothers--Flordemayo, Margaret Behan, Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance and Tsering Gyaltong--visited the Life Long Senior Center. In the evening all the Grandmothers, CSS staff and a total of 80 invited guests came together at GIAC to honor the Council. The Ithaca Days were planned primarily by Janet Shortall, Director, Center for Religious Works, Anke Wessels, Director, Center for Transformative Action, Audrey Cooper, Director, Multi-Cultural Resource Center, Scott Perez, Liaison between local First People Nations and Cornell's American Indian Program.
■Fri. 10/10: Film Preview Day---The Grandmothers were warmly welcomed by students and faculty at Wells College and joined in an open forum. A luncheon with faculty members followed. After leaving Wells College the Grandmothers were given a tour of the Cayuga Share Farm, founded and organized by non-natives in support of the Cayuga Nation. Cayuga elders also met with the Grandmothers. In the evening, the Grandmothers Council traveled to The State University of New York –Cortland Campus, for a preview of For the Next 7 Generations, the documentary-in-progress of the Grandmother’s travels. Producer Carole Hart, Emmy and Peabody winner spoke about the process and the film.
■Sat. 10/11: Women’s Gathering of Groton and Closing Ceremony---Grandmothers gathered for Private Council time, then at noon held the closing ceremony, with the extinguishing of the Sacred Fire, and the dismantling of the Buffalo Skull altar. Before lunch at the inn, the Grandmothers received Dorothy Cotton for tea. A Grandmother and a guide for many people, Ms. Cotton was one of Martin Luther King’s close associates and dear friends. The Grandmothers shared stories, songs and laughter. Ms Cotton was a heart-warming presence of kinship and encouragement for their common goals. More private council time followed lunch. In the evening, a dinner was hosted by The Women’s Gathering of Groton at the Thou Art Gallery, located in a spacious old church built in 1883 by 26 women. The church, with beautiful stained glass windows, is owned by conference organizer Janet Jacobs. Nancy Boyce runs the artisans’ gallery and community meeting place.
Further Travels with The Grandmothers Council:
■Sun. 10/12--- The Grandmothers Council and volunteer drivers caravaned down to Washington, DC, and are hosted for dinner by the women of Code Pink, a well-known peace and justice group. A warm welcome, prayers and much exchange took place.
■Mon 10/13--- On Columbus Day/Native American Day morning, the Grandmothers headed to the Mall near the Washington Monument to join Turtle Women Rising on the fourth and final morning of Heartbeat for Peace, a four-day, 24-hr. drumming prayer led by Eli Painted Crow (Yaqui Grandmother/retired veteran) and retired veteran Deb Sullivan, joined by many others, including Veterans for Peace. On the lawn stood a tipi (where a Red tail Hawk perched for 30 minutes on Day 1) and the Sacred Fire which burned throughout the four days. Rare cloud phenomena included a fire-rainbow, two sun dogs and other unusual formations. When the Grandmothers arrived, they circled around the fire and Grandmother Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance led prayers for the group, with more prayers, songs, tobacco and offerings by many, along with honoring of Veterans. This day was also the 4th anniversary of the founding of the Grandmothers Council, and a Native American Church birthday song was sung to the Council by a number of the community. Gifting of a symbolic staff/hoop, with inspirational words and prayers by Grandmother Agnes and Don Alfredo Sfeir Younis, founder of the Zambuling Institute for Human Transformation concluded the event. After lunch the Grandmothers visited the stunning Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, where Grandmother Beatrice, Rita Blumenstein and Marie Meade had been honored some months before!
■Tues. 10/14--- After breakfast the Council traveled to the Hart Senate Building in DC to meet with a staff member in then-Senator Obama’s office. The Grandmothers prayed together and shared a few of their many concerns about the Earth and future generations, with hopes that a new administration will listen to the indigenous people of the world. Most of the Grandmothers and their companions then headed back to their homes, with prayers and hugs all around. Meanwhile, Jyoti, Grandmother Agnes and daughter Nadine drove to southern New Jersey’s Pine Barrens to the renowned Tracker School, to meet with founder Tom Brown, Jr., his instructors, students and the staff of the Children of the Earth Foundation (COTEF), the school for youth.
■Oct. 15th --- Jyoti, Grandmother Agnes and her daughter Nadine (long-time admirers of Tom Brown, Jr.’s teachings) returned to the Tracker School Camp the next day to meet more students and see their work. They were honored with hand-made gifts highlighting students’ skills, including brain-tanned hides. A special hand drum was given to Grandmother Agnes, as well as an ancient fishing spear made by Tom’s son Tommy. The visit by Grandmother Agnes is part of Grandfather Stalking Wolf’s prophecies: of elders coming to camp, as well as his wilderness skills being returned to The People. COTEF is now working with several tribal youth groups around the country, passing down Stalking Wolf’s wisdom and skills of sixty years of nomadic life on two continents.
■Oct. 15th/16th ~ Jyoti, Grandmother Agnes and Nadine then went to Menla Conference Center in Phoenicia, NY (site of the first Grandmothers Council in 2004) and spoke at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology Global Program Conference, facilitated by Nancy Rowe, Ph.D., who is also an instructor in the Center for Sacred Studies Ministry Training Program.
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