Heroes: International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers


Exclusive one-on-one interviews with extraordinary individuals working on behalf of women, children, and families worldwide. 

"We as women have been erased from the world’s writing. Men were the ones who wrote the stories—we only hear their side. And now it’s our turn to write our story."
Julieta Casimiro & Margaret Behan, International Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers
Country / Region:
Oaxaca, Mexico / Montana, U.S.A.


“We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth, the contamination of our air, waters and soil, the atrocities of war, the global scourge of poverty, the threat of nuclear weapons and waste, the prevailing culture of materialism, the epidemics which threaten the health of the Earth’s peoples, the exploitation of indigenous medicines, and with the destruction of indigenous ways of life. We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, believe that our ancestral ways of prayer, peacemaking and healing are vitally needed today. We come together to nurture, educate and train our children.” - From the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers' website



Margaret Behan and Julieta Casimiro are members of the International Council of the 13 Grandmothers, a group of thirteen grandmothers from Alaska; North, South, and Central America; Asia, and Africa. The International Council of the 13 Grandmothers promotes global peace, works together as an alliance to support the cultivation and security of indigenous cultures, and passes on the teachings of their cultures’ ancestors to their children and grandchildren. IMOW Interviewed two of the grandmothers.

Grandmother Margaret Behan is the fifth generation of Sand Creek Massacre survivors. She was born into the Cheyenne Beaver Clan on her mother's side, and the Rabbit Lodge on her father's Cheyenne/Arapaho side. Today Grandmother Margaret presents trauma and substance abuse programs across the country. 

Grandmother Julieta Casimiro, a Mazatec elder, curandera, and healer from Oaxaca, Mexico, began exploring her healing gifts when she was 17 years old. For more than 40 years, people around the world have come to Julieta for ceremony, healing, and life guidance.  She works with people who have AIDS, cancer, emotional diseases, and psychological imbalance.  



IMOW: What is the International Council of the 13 Grandmothers, and why was it formed?
MARGARET: The council was formed to raise awareness among the world that the Earth is alive and is tired of being mistreated, through actions such as exploding chemical bombs or nuclear bombs, and never blessing the land and being grateful for all that it gives us. Moreover, there is an emerging need for people interested in the loss of cultural values due to drugs, fashions, politics, TV, and the influence of material things that cause people to leave their traditions or forget their customs.
JULIETA: The International Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers is the voice of Mother Earth, in my opinion.  I can tell you that we are the voice of our culture, we are what will change the world.

IMOW: Can you tell us about when the Council was formed?
MARGARET: When we first got together we recognized each other, like we had always known each other. We were very familiar. And we started telling each other the story of the number 13 and its significance. There were 13 moons in a year, Grandma Blumenstein gave us 13 rocks and 13 eagle feathers that her grandmother gave her to give to us when she was 9 years old—she predicted this. The Mayan Grandmothers talked about how there were 13 markings on the turtle shell.  Thirteen planets align in July.
JULIETA:  One of our sisters in the council, Grandma Rita Pitka Blumenstein from Alaska, had a talk with the matriarch of her community at a young age, and was told that one day she would find 12 other women who, together, would carry the message of peace throughout the world.

IMOW: Where do you see the impact of the work of the council?
MARGARET: I see the impact simply in our presence. Our presence is very phenomenal—and oh, they cry! A group of people in Brazil just started crying when we came out together. Nobody has to explain.

IMOW: What or who inspires the vision for the work you do through the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers?
JULIETA:  What inspires me is the love I have for people, and for my family.
MARGARET: [I’m inspired by] the people that are very interested in our movement. They come to us with suggestions and offerings. And I say to everyone, “you are very brave to come to the 13 Grandmothers.”

IMOW: How did becoming a grandmother change you, if at all?
MARGARET: It inspired me to look back to the sacred training I went through when I was growing up – to take one situation at a time. Now as a global grandmother, I still handle one situation at a time. Spiritual, religious, and political—weigh it and examine it one at a time.

IMOW: In your opinion, how can young mothers learn from elder mothers?
JULIETA: If the adult or older mother treats the other members of their family well, like their sons and daughters, that example is followed. If they mistreat them, then this would lead to the loss of values, and ultimately, the loss of family.

IMOW: What did you value most about your mother? How did she help shape the woman you are today?
JULIETA:  I value her a lot because she was my mother who raised me until age 17, when I married. She taught me to respect, above all, things that do not belong to us and the people we do not know. She taught me to be a woman of integrity, truth, and honesty. 
MARGARET: My mother was very brave, very courageous. She was a political leader. When they had an election in the town where we lived, they would come to her and tell them her they are running for sheriff and they wanted her to educate the Native American and Indian voters, her people. So she would make a feast—they gave her money and she would buy food and educate the voters and educate them about who was running for office and what they were asking for.

IMOW: In your opinion how can grandmothers contribute to a peaceful world where the environment and the cultures of indigenous peoples are protected?
JULIETA:  We encourage people to ask, what is the right way—what should they do with all these sacred cultures? Many people want all the wisdom for the minimum amount effort.  For those individuals, I only give them guidelines, but not the answers because that would not help. It is better that they learn to fall in flight than never walk again.

IMOW: Why is it important for you to work with other grandmothers?
MARGARET: We as women have been erased from the world’s writing. Men were the ones who wrote the stories—we only hear their side. And now it’s our turn to write our story. [IMOW is] doing the work, I am doing the work. People are now very curious about women. People ask, “Why do you work with women?” Because they are the center of the family. 

Take Action

Spread the word about the 13 Grandmothers and visit their website at www.grandmotherscouncil.org.

The next public gathering of the International Council of 13 Indigenous will be hosted by Grandmother Margaret Behan and her Cheyenne-Arapaho people from July 26 – 29, 2012 in Lame Deer, Montana.  If you are interested in attending, please check the Events page on the Grandmothers’ website!