“It will be the feminine energy that helps usher in the new age,” Grandfather Warren told us. “I give you my blessings to awaken the teachings within the Pacific cultures.”
These were the words of a respected Native American elder to Grandmother Susan Stanton and myself in the summer of 2009. Little did we know what work was ahead of us as we started preparing the way for the first 13 Grandmothers Gathering on the Big Island of Hawaii in February of 2010.
After the initial 2004 International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers came together, other grassroots grandmothers circles began to spring up around the United States. Susan Stanton of Illinois and Gail Whitlow of Ontario, Canada formed such a council and began to assist grandmothers in many states to form their own circles.
“We use the number thirteen because of the sacredness of it,” said Grandmother Whitlow. “It is twelve plus one, and it is the power that comes along with the number that will restructure our nations again, to get back to the natural way of being.”
By creating the independent grandmother circles in different areas, Whitlow and Stanton hope to empower various communities to assist with the present-day issues that may affect them.
After setting up such a grandmothers circle in Mimbres, NM in 2009, Stanton and Whitlow, along with two other grandmothers on their council, Elizabeth Babin and Corinne Tooshkenig began gathering nine other Grandmothers to meet in Hawaii.
The purpose of this first gathering in the Pacific Region was to share indigenous teachings with a new circle of Polynesian Grandmothers or Tutu Wahine as they are called in the Hawaiian Islands.
Although there are many South Pacific cultures that have been able to retain much of their indigenous teachings, other cultures, such as the Hawaiian culture suffered greatly due to the influx of Christianity and western influence. Ancient wisdom once lived by the people on a daily basis was made taboo, almost wiped out and keepers of knowledge had to go underground in order to preserve the knowledge of their ancestors.
This loss of culture affected almost everything; the ancient art of navigation by stars was forgotten, hula kahiko (ancient hula) was forbidden, the Hawaiian language almost completely obliterated, and indigenous ways of the people were lost.
Only since the late 1970s has there been a resurgence of interest in the ancient Polynesian ways. Hawaiian Immersion Schools have cropped up to teach the new generations their Hawaiian language. Seafaring by stars and nature has been renewed, and strong cultural traditions in the arts are being revitalized.
Yet, the loss of identity among the pacific indigenous peoples has had a detrimental effect, and many of the Hawaiians and Polynesians face the same problems that our sister cultures in North America face.
“Gathering of grandmother circles allows us to begin sharing knowledge,” said Grandmother Whitlow. “It is time. We need to find out what our medicines were before we chose to accept our western options.”
Called Kontiya’taro:ron (meaning Women are Gathering,) the 13 Grandmothers and 13 Tutu Wahine (representing cultures from Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, and New Zealand). assembled on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Little was known about how the three-day gathering would flow; organizers felt strict outlines would not allow for organic development. There had been no time to meet before the general gathering to discuss what would be shared. Yet, as attendees and grandmothers gathered, a strong sense of sisterhood was palpable.
The mission statement for gathering of the Pacific Grandmothers read: Working through indigenous Grandmothers to bring teachings and ceremony from all directions together. To put in place a spiritual plan for the next seven generations and to define and implement indigenous philosophies for all five-fingered people. To develop a strong network of resources to support, share and implement and unite our peoples. (Sustainable communities, bartering, trading, language preservation, indigenous knowledge sharing, medicines, healing, etc.)
Ultimately over 300 people attended the 13 + 13 gathering, represented by women and men in a very wide age range, all of different cultures and backgrounds. As the February gathering progressed, it became very clear what issues most needed to be discussed.
Break-out sessions formed, and solutions were shared by both attendees and the Grandmothers/Tutu Wahine in four focused areas: 1) ancient wisdom and teachings, 2) environmental issues, 3) drug abuse issues and 4) finding ways to support our Tutus, many of whom are primarily raising their grandchildren.
A movement was started and all were inspired. Attendees gave input, many offered to volunteer, some came forward to assist in grant writing, and ideas were generated and shared.
Grandmother Marjorie Wright who joined the 13 Grandmothers from Hazelton, BC, Canada, said she was very moved by the ceremonies. After she returned to her home, she wrote: “I was humbled and honored that your people allowed me to come to your region and participate in such an important way. I felt that this was the purpose I was there... to honor your way, on your land. I was there to be shown and for me to learn in the process... that your group would remember the old ways. I think it was beautiful.”
The goal for the 13 Grandmothers Pacifica Council is to assist in the creation of circles of 13 grandmothers on each of the Hawaiian Islands and eventually to all island cultures of the Pacific.
In October of 2010, Grandmothers Robin Youngblood, Kathy McDuff, Sylvia Cenzano, Maile Orme and Lina La’anui organized the council of 13 Grandmothers on the island of Maui, for people to gather and share ceremony, wisdom teachings and to find solutions for issues they face on that island.
And in November of 2010, the council of 13 Grandmothers was started in Aotearoa (New Zealand), linking the North and South Pacific in circle. Grandmothers Ma’ata Tukuafu, Susan Stanton, Cynthy Sterling and Billie Schibler traveled to New Zealand to share the teachings and help initiate these new Council groups.
While most of the Grandmothers and Tutu Wahine are from indigenous tribal lineages, we consider ‘indigenous’ to be a state of the heart rather than blood quantum. Our circle invites anyone who cares about our children, our elders, our earth and our future, to join us as we re-remember our indigenous ways and become more balanced.
The next 13 Grandmothers Pacifica gathering will take place at Kilauea, Volcano on March 31-April 3 of 2011, and a new circle gathers on the island of Oahu in April of 2011.
For more information, please visit: 13 Grandmothers of the Pacific; Pacifica Indigenous Grandmothers; Ontario Canada Indigenous Grandmothers & Elders or The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.