“You can adopt a highway, so why not adopt a grandmother?” jokes Grandma Agnes Baker Pilgrim, the chair of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. At age 87, Grandma Aggie is the oldest member of the Takelma Siletz Tribe in Oregon, and she’s just back home from a council meeting in Japan, hosted by Grandma Clara Shinobu Iura. After knee surgery, Aggie will head to Anchorage in May for a gathering hosted by Grandma Rita Pitka Blumenstein, and then she’ll be off to Brazilia in October for a gathering hosted by Grandma Maria Freire. And so the grandmas have been gathering — and growing in adoptees — since their first gathering in New York in 2004.
The grandmothers are not rich jet-setters — quite the contrary. They are down-to-earth medicine women, shamans, and curanderos. They travel by donations. They work with prayer and ceremony, with plant medicines, and some with spirit-opening entheogens like ayahuasca, peyote, and mushrooms. They could tell horror stories of hunger and deprivation on reservations, of land and languages stolen, of children lost. Instead, they spread blessings and caring for the earth as they gently work for justice. They have petitioned the Pope in St. Peter’s Square and have consulted with the Dalai Lama. Perhaps best of all, they have inspired thousands of other grandparents and elders to create new councils. As Grandma Aggie says, the job of the grandmother is to span humanity’s greatest distance: “the 14 inches from our heads to our hearts.”
Clara Shinobu Iura, Santo Daime (Brazil), Maria Alice Compos Freire, Santo Daime (Brazil), Margaret Behan, Arapaho/Cheyenne (Montana), Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Yupik (Alaska), Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance, Oglala Lakota (South Dakota), Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance, Oglala Lakota (South Dakota), Bernadette Rebienot, Omyene (Gabon, Africa), Mona Polacca, Hopi/Havasupai/Tewa (Arizona), Julieta Casimiro, Mazatec (Mexico), Agnes Baker Pilgrim, Takelma Siletz (Oregon), Floredmayo, Mayan (Central America; New Mexico), Aama Bombo, Tamang (Nepal), Tsering Dolma Gyaltong, Tibetan Buddhist (Tibet)
Adopt a Grandmother: One of the best ways to support the grandmothers and to encourage new groups is to host a screening of their film For the Next Seven Generations. For more information — and to join the grandmothers in Anchorage, Alaska, in May — go to grandmotherscouncil.org.
Marisol Villanueva is the official photographer of the Grandmothers Council, and she graciously shared these images.