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Madrid City in English
Tuesday 19th of June 2018
Laura Tabor 1210 10th of October 2012 by PollyRose 10th of October 2012
Grannies Know Best

As the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers visits Madrid during their European tour, Laura Tabor meets two of the team and learns more about their message of peace, balance with nature and traditional medicine

Rita Pitka Blumenstein is no ordinary grandmother; hailing from Alaska, she dresses in bright colours and wears a mischievous grin, as if everything is a joke that she is all set to laugh at. She punctuates her words by waving a bundle of eagle feathers at those to whom she is talking.
    Blumenstein is just one of thirteen women who have come together since 2004 as the International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, a group initiated to celebrate their indigenous heritage and start conversations about peace and reconciliation with nature. The women originate from such distant places as Gabon and Tibet yet also the less exotic Oregon State, USA, and range from 60 to 88 years old. They are unified in their wish to participate in and understand each other’s culture and ceremonies, and are looking to learn and use traditional healing methods and natural remedies.
    Their first meeting, close to ten years ago, was held in upstate New York, the ancestral home of the Iroquois nation, where Blumenstein joined the other grandmothers to discuss becoming a formalised organisation. Since then, every six months, all or part of the group has travelled worldwide, including visits to Huautla de Jiménez in Mexico, Mapia in the Brazilian jungle, Dharamsala in India, and even Rome. They tend to focus on each other’s homelands so that they can learn the traditions and practices of each woman’s community.


Travellers’ tales
Two of the grandmothers are making the Madrid visit, which takes place at vegetarian restaurant, Ecocentro. As well as Blumenstein from Alaska, there’s also Julieta Casimiro from Huautla de Jiménez, and Jyoti, the Travelling Ambassador for the Council and Spiritual Director of the Centre for Sacred Studies. The Centre describes itself as an organisation which is “dedicated to sustaining indigenous ways of life through cross-cultural spiritual practices, ministry and education, and a commitment to peace and unity for all peoples”, and there is mention of opening an affiliate office in Madrid soon. Following the capital, the group will visit El Escorial, to speak about their beliefs and ideas, give blessings to attendees, perform ceremonies and lead prayers.
    A documentary film about their work, entitled For the Next Seven Generations, is shown to get the meeting underway, and an open forum follows. Their years together have created many alliances and some unforgettable experiences, such as their audience with the Dalai Lama in India and being hassled by police in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square for undertaking traditional prayer practices. Both of these events are recorded in the film. “The Thirteen all have one thing [in common]: they pray,” says Blumenstein with a huge smile. “The idea is to get well, and to make the people well. That is why I have love!” Grandmother Casimiro continues the theme, “We need to eat and drink, but before that we need to pray. I have to do work, I’m an artisan, but I bless my table; it’s how I don’t lose faith, how I stay happy.”


Wake up call   
They have networked with nature advocacy groups like the Bioneers in the United States, for their message is deeply connected to the need for a change in how humans care for the planet. “We are at the end of an age,” Jyoti states. “We are leaving a time when we got lost in a disease called materialism.” The grandmothers say that they do not have an agenda, that they want to pray and heal. Their environmental message is one that sees destruction on Earth and wants people to change their behaviour in time. As Jyoti comments, “The earth is trying to wake us up. The question is: how can you wake your people?”
    Nevertheless, they all carry themselves with a sense of optimism about the future despite their analysis of the environmental situation as dire. Jyoti, a grandmother herself, clearly believes the Council’s message is important for the current generation to hear. “These grandmothers, when they could be at home resting, are moving all over the world, forming more circles of grandmothers,” she says. In addition, Blumenstein  sees the Council as playing a unique role as women: “I was told from the elders that men are powerful but women are all connected to the bellybutton, the navel of the universe. We are all joined to Mother Earth, and she teaches us.”


Walking a path   
In their tour of Europe, the grandmothers have already visited Sweden, where they are planning a full Council gathering next year, and the Netherlands, meeting with various environmental groups. All attendees of the meeting are invited to Nepal for their upcoming full Council reunion in Kathmandu in November.
    Curiously, even though all the women have varying pasts, in many instances their communities foretold the coming together of an influential group of elders long before their project started. Blumenstein, for example, tells a story of when she was nine years old and talking with her own grandmother. “She informed me ‘when you get old and grey like me, you will be asked to sit on a council of 13 grandmothers.’” It’s proved a remarkable prediction.

For further information, see to learn more about the International Council, especially their Alliance Statement. The Ecocentro restaurant is located at Calle de Esquilache, 2 (Metro: Cuatro Caminos, Canal and Ríos Rosas).

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