Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 28, 2003 - Issue 90


pictograph divider


The Grandmother's Project

by Rebekah Denn

Pauline HillaireWHIDBEY ISLAND -- Little Dillon Covington, the newest great-grandson of Lummi elder Pauline Hillaire, 2 months old with a shock of black hair and a gentle baby grin, had this response on Sunday to the wisdom of his elders:


But listen for the lesson he unconsciously provided for the "Grandmothers Project" at the Whidbey Institute in Clinton. Grandmother Sca'la, as Hillaire is known, tells the audience of about 90 wisdom-seekers that we are all born learning.

"You watch babies learn how to eat, learn how to crawl, learn how to walk, learn how to talk. How to, how to. You learn all your life. You even die learning -- or you learn to die."

Sagacity and song and stories were all heard at last Sunday's "Getting Down to Earth With the Grandmothers," the first event in a long-term plan to hold regular seminars learning from -- and learning to honor -- our grandmothers.

"Traditionally for thousands of years the elder women have had the last say in council, in questions," said founding director Norma Jean Young, a teacher of reiki, an alternative healing technique.

"This is coming back to the feminine principle ... that women hold not only the womb within their bodies, but the role, the function, of protecting, nurturing and furthering life," Young said.

The grandmothers who spoke Sunday were high-powered spiritual leaders from different homelands, focusing on indigenous tribes. But their lessons weren't so different at the core from what your own nana or bubbe or nonna might say. Listen:

Grandmother Dagmo Jamyang Sakya ("Dagmola"), a nationally prominent teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, said that she and her husband escaped Tibet when the Chinese Communists came. They scaled a 23,000-foot mountain pass without proper shoes. She carried a diapered baby on her back. It was so cold their faces bled, but they made it through.

"Sometimes I feel like here is really blessed land," Grandmother Dagmola said. Some people don't know how lucky they are, how lucky we are. We have choices, we (can) say I like this, I don't like this."

Grandmother Vi HilbertGrandmother Vi Hilbert, an Upper Skagit tribal elder who helped organize the event, advised the gathering to praise the good you see in others instead of just noticing the bad. "Dear ones, if you remember nothing else, remember that acknowledgment is important. You will notice that any time you praise a child for doing a good job, they want to do it again."

Youngsters with a youth council set up for the project were listening, and they praised the grandmothers in turn. Gaven Horne, 15, said that some kids "when they see older people, sort of discard them in their mind." When you spend a lot of time with them, as he has lately, you find out other things.

Like how smart they are, said Marcus Francis, 15.

Like how funny they are, said Gaven. "Grandma Vi be cracking jokes."

Like how you can depend on them, said Marcus. "Any time, I know I can knock on my grandma's door."

They are learning from people like Grandmother Angeline Locey, a Hawaiian elder, who said the most important things in living a healthy life are the fresh air and clean water that we are foolishly polluting. And she said, before a smiling dancer performs a hula in her honor, that it is healthy to dance. "Hula is so good for you ladies ... so dance. Dance your butts off."

Attendees like Maggie Lindsey of Lund, B.C., a mother and healer, took in every nuance of the stories and dances with an alert eye or a gesture from a practiced hand. Hearing the grandmother's words, Lindsey said, is like a circle that gives back to her the energy that she tries to give to others.

There's a place for everyone in that circle. Said Grandmother Sca'la, "Now some people think they don't belong, but they can't convince me. They breathe the same air I do, drink the same water I do, but they think they're different. Uh-uh, it doesn't happen that way."

The natural world is an inextricable part of that. Grandmother Dell Wihongi, a Maori elder from New Zealand, said the grandmothers visited some beautiful trees on Whidbey the other day, and a young man told her there that he used to climb up a mighty oak as a child and try to talk to it. "My dear, the trees do talk too. They do talk. You are part of the trees. ... The biggest problem is, we humans cannot speak the language."

There were gifts for the grandmothers on Sunday: shawls, scarves, healing treatments at the institute's sanctuary of cedar and sunlight. And there was thankfulness from people like Diane Patten, 53, of Seattle, who said it's good to remember and reinforce their lessons so we can pass them on in turn.

"Someday, we're going to be the elders, we're going to be at the front of that line."

The elders say they've never stopped learning, and Grandma Vi said the other grandmothers younger than her 80-some years are all babies to her anyway. "I am not old; I'm ancient. And when you're ancient, you never get old."

Grandmother Angeline said to Grandmother Dagmola that she benefited from Tibetan teachings on a mountaintop in Spain. "I have never been afraid since then to die, of leaving my body. So I am very thank- ful."

Grandmother Dagmo said, "Death is not scary. Once you have done life good, death is just going to a different place with a different body."

Grandmother Vi said she was an only child, and she is bossy sometimes. She is not afraid to tell us that if we ever want to learn to respect and honor one another, we must listen to these stories from each other.

Grandmother Vi said to try it with your own grandmother, if you haven't already.

"Know, dear ones, if you have grandparents, sit and encourage them to talk about the past, because they won't do it otherwise. ... Sit at their feet and beg them, like I begged my family, to tell me something."

For more information about or for future events in the Grandmothers Project, call The Whidbey Institute at 360-341-1884 or visit

Whidbey Island, WA Map

Maps by Travel

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!