Grandmothers Counsel the World

March 18, 2009

Grandmothers Counsel the World at The Evergreen State College

Members of International Council of Indigenous Grandmothers Arrives in Early May

(Olympia and Tacoma, Wash.) The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers was formed almost five years ago out of a deep concern for “the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth and the destruction of indigenous ways of life.” The Council, which includes spiritual leaders from across the world, assembles to pray, share ancestral wisdom and counsel the world from multiple perspectives of distinctive cultures.

The Evergreen State College welcomes four North American members of this council of leaders of nations. The Grandmothers will share their views on the environment, resiliency, peace and knowledge in a time of unprecedented global change.


On Saturday, May 2
, the week of events opens with the keynote presentation, the Traditional Salish Welcome Ceremony and Presentation by the Four Grandmothers from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., with reception and food provided by The Lucky Eagle Casino. The free, public event will take place at The Evergreen State College, Daniel J. Evans Library, 2nd Floor Lobby, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia, Washington 98505.

During the Welcome Ceremony and keynote presentation, the elders will share their knowledge and experience of indigenous science, spiritual healing and ceremony, peace and prayer. The purpose of their conversation is to engage thought on the world’s spiritual, earthly, and cultural resources through examples from the experience of the grandmothers and from a deep reservoir of cultural wisdom.

On Tuesday, May 5, the visiting council members will pair up for two distinct, free public talks entitled “Ancestral Teachings for Times of Unprecedented Change.”

Mona Polacca and Rita Pitka Blumenstein will deliver their message at Evergreen’s Tacoma campus on May 5 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (This talk will be telecast live at Evergreen’s Olympia campus in Lecture Hall 1.) The Tacoma campus is located at 1210 6th Avenue, Tacoma, WA 98405

Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance and Council Chair Agnes Baker Pilgrim will speak on that same theme May 5 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Evergreen’s Olympia campus, Lecture Hall 1.

Anyone attending one of the previous events is invited to join in honoring and thanking the visiting council members at the Closing Ceremony and Reception on Friday, May 8, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Seminar II, E1107.

Visit this page for directions to Olympia and Tacoma campuses:

If you are a person with a disability and need an accommodation for this event, please contact Meredith at; (360) 867-6348 or TTY/TDD 360.867.6834.

About the Grandmothers

The concept of the council of elders is an ancient form of governance ruled by a circle rather than a hierarchy of command. Councils of elders are emerging in Europe, Australia and the Middle East. The four elders are here as North American representatives of an international council formed out of concern for the destruction of Mother Earth, indigenous ways of life, and the wellbeing of humanity. They will visit and teach at Evergreen, local schools, and in the wider South Sound communities. The first council gathering was a time of hope and inspiration. The grandmothers are women of prayer and women of action. Their traditional ways link them with the forces of the Earth. Their solidarity with one another creates a web to rebalance the injustices wrought from an imbalanced world; a world disconnected from the fundamental laws of nature and the original teachings based on a respect for all of life.

  • Rita Pitka Blumenstein serves as the first certified tribal doctor in the state of Alaska. She is a Yup'ik mother, grandmother, great grandmother, wife, aunt, sister, friend, and tribal elder. Well known as a traditional healer, teacher, and artist, she has spent over forty years investigating, producing, and passing on many aspects of Alaska Native culture such as song, drumming, skin sewing, basketry, storytelling, and use of plants for dyes and medicinal purposes. She has traveled and taught in 167 countries.
  • Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance is a Lakota keeper of the traditional ways, great grandmother, Native American Church elder, and bead worker. She lives with her sister, Beatrice Long-Visitor Holy Dance on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. With her sister, Grandmother Rita initiated the Council’s Youth Ambassador program. She is involved in the Grandmothers’ efforts to encourage the Vatican to rescind several Papal Bulls and edicts that set the stage for the "doctrine of conquest" that has had such far-reaching effects on the treatment of indigenous peoples.
  • Agnes Baker Pilgrim, Chairman of the Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, is the oldest known living female member of her tribe, the Takelma Indians, originally from southern Oregon. An alumna of Southern Oregon University, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in Native American Studies, she is a historian, storyteller and cultural instructor. She has been honored as a "Living Treasure" by her tribe the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and as a "Living Cultural Legend" by the Oregon Council of the Arts.
  • Mona Polacca is a Hopi/Havasupai /Tewa elder. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Arizona State University where she is working on her Ph.D. in interdisciplinary justice studies. She is also on the faculty of the Turtle Island Project, a non-profit program dedicated to promoting a vision of wellness by providing trans-cultural training to individuals, families, and healthcare professionals. Grandmother Polacca has worked on issues of Native American alcoholism, domestic violence and mental health for the elderly native peoples.

More information on the activities of the grandmothers at Evergreen from May 2 to May 9 can be found at

More information on the International Council of Indigenous Grandmothers can be found at


The week of events is presented by the Willi Unsoeld Seminar Series, The Evergreen State College Diversity Series and the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center, in collaboration with First Peoples’ Advising Services and academic programs across the college. 

The Willi Unsoeld Seminar Series welcomes distinguished visitors who reflect the values and philosophy of Willi Unsoeld, a founding Evergreen faculty member, philosopher, theologian and mountaineer. Unsoeld was well known for his first ascent of the West Ridge of Mt. Everest with Tom Hornbein, in which they made the first successful traverse of any Himalayan peak. For this feat, President John F. Kennedy presented them with the Hubbard Medal, The National Geographic Society’s highest honor. The annual Unsoeld Seminar is endowed as a “living memorial” in honor of Willi Unsoeld who lost his life in an avalanche on Mt. Rainier in 1979.

The Diversity Series was established by Evergreen’s Office for Diversity Affairs to engage the community in conversations about multicultural equity and social justice. The series serves to remind us that our communities are comprised of many cultures, and that everyone benefits when we rely on varied ways of being, knowing, teaching and learning.

The Longhouse Education and Cultural Center opened on the Olympia campus of The Evergreen State College in 1995. The Center’s primary public service work is to promote indigenous arts and culture. In the beginning, the center focused on six local Puget Sound tribes and their artists; today staff work with indigenous artists throughout the Pacific Northwest region, nationally, and with other Pacific Rim indigenous peoples to promote indigenous arts and cultures through a wide variety of programs.

We are honored that the Lucky Eagle Casino will provide the generous donation of food for the reception following the Welcome Ceremony and keynote presentation on Saturday May 2.