Grandmothers Rising Up for Mother Earth
Painting: Morning Grooming by Martha Paquin
Sisters, daughters, nieces, aunts, mothers and grandmothers from diverse cultures, faiths and backgrounds are raising their voices and advocating for an Earth-respecting cultural narrative—one of “restore, respect and replenish”—to replace the narrative of domination, depletion and the destruction of nature. Globally, their voices are being heard as they speak for climate justice, the creation of climate solutions and a just and necessary transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. These words are snippets taken from the declaration and preamble for the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN), a solution-based alliance that works to foster resilient communities and promote a post-carbon energy future, while encouraging societal transformation.
Albeit, millions of women are unacquainted with WECAN, yet the organization’s guiding principles capture what lies at the heart of all women’s actions that are speaking loud and clear for the rights of nature, indigenous peoples and future generations.
Among those who are demonstrating their commitment to move from a future of peril to a future of promise are Southwest Florida grandmothers Janet Weisberg, Dianne Rhodes, Martha Paquin, Holley Rauen, Ann Smith and Betty Osceola. Just as actress Julia Roberts is the voice of Nature in Conservation International’s documentary, Nature is Speaking, these Earth ventriloquists are throwing their voices to give Earth the language and words for awakening humanity to its need to collaborate with Nature, rather than work against it. They are doing it for their children, grandchildren and the generations beyond, as well as all living things on Mother Earth. These fearless and tireless grandmothers can inspire all of us with their courage and energy.
Janet Weisberg with her husband Sam and 12 grandchildren
Janet WeisbergJanet Weisberg was relieved to learn through her training with Project NatureConnect that the 54 senses she used in childhood to communicate with Nature could be restored. For Weisberg, the sensory science and therapeutic remedy for the excessive disconnection of our psyche from nature’s flow was a grand blessing. In exploring nature’s wisdom, this grandmother of 12, from 4 to 22 years old, woke up.
“I’d been like everyone else buying things, trying to fit in, feeling separated from what I couldn’t identify and lacking a feeling of wholeness. There was no particular reason for this, as I grew up in a nice home with a great family,” says Weisberg.
NatureConnect’s experiential training drew Weisberg back to her greatest pleasure; time outdoors. “As a kid, I enjoyed a connection with nature and played a lot outside. I grew up and lost that connectedness. Through NatureConnect, I learned that our preverbal ancient brain (located in the brain stem, amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus and thalamus) never loses its 54 senses. In adulthood, combining it with the functioning of the neocortex is essential to a relationship with nature, abstract thinking, imagination, problem solving and a sense of wholeness. In the re-engaging of those senses, I returned to wholeness, which I unconsciously had longed for,” she explains.
The reality of grandchildren living on a planet where humanity had no clue how to work together toward a sustainable future hit Weisberg hard. “Initially I wept and sobbed, because I couldn’t understand why my children wanted to bring babies into the world. Then I had an insight. I’m beholden to my grandchildren and every child born, as well as to the 20- and 30-year-olds who haven’t had children yet. I have a role to play, and I’m not finished until I depart this life. This work brought me to life in my late 60s. I speak now to educate the young and the elders that language isn’t the be-all and end-all. To survive, thrive and create a resilient future, we need super-intelligence, which is what we get when we activate the whole brain,” notes Weisberg.
Dianne Rhodes Trade deals, pipelines, tar sands, clear-cut logging, acid rain, greenhouse gas emissions, poverty, aboriginal reserves, pollution, recycling, sea level rise, solar initiative, fossil fuels, Earth Overshoot Day and any other environmental or social justice terms that are related to climate change find their way into the majority of Dianne Rhodes’ conversations and presentations when she speaks locally and in Saskatchewan, a prairie province in Canada where she summers.
This 71-year-old grandmother spends a minimum of three hours daily surfing her trusted websites--TheClimateMobilization.org, BlueDot.Ca, 350.org, Algore.com (The Climate Reality Project), Eco-Voice.org, EcoWatch.com, CommonDreams.org, TruthDig.com, DemocracyNow.org, TheEmpireFiles.TV, TelesurTv.net and InsideClimateNews.org for information that mainstream media spins or fails to provide. She also reads books and articles written by expert authors she admires. “Additionally, I educate myself from research provided by respected experts such as Bill McKibben, George Monbiot, David Suzuki, Guy McPherson, Herman Daily, Bill Rees, Chris Edges, Naomi Kline and Sandra Steingrabber,” says Rhodes.
Rhodes has trained with 350.org’s leader, Bill McKibben. In 2012 she joined participants from 58 countries who spent three days training with Vice President Al Gore and other climate change experts involved in his nonprofit Climate Reality Project. “He personally trains a diverse leadership corps from a variety of backgrounds to work toward solving the climate crisis,” says Rhodes, who now speaks publicly on the subject.
“As a wise elder, I speak as often as possible on rights for all people and especially the next generations who deserve to live on a healthy planet. More than 100 countries have environmental rights in their constitutions. Canada and the U.S. do not. This needs to change. There are organizations such as Our Children's Trust and the For the Generations, a Delaware Riverkeeper Network initiative that are working on this in the U.S.
In Canada, it is the Blue Dot Movement, initiated by the David Suzuki Foundation, that is building the Right to a Healthy Environment city by city until the initiative is strong enough to be included in Canada's Constitution,” remarks Rhodes, who is leading a volunteer team that is getting petitions signed for presenting to the Saskatoon Mayor and city council for signing into law. “My efforts are for the future generations, my grandchildren and especially for my granddaughter Amorell who likes to join me in demonstrations.”
Holley RauenHolley Rauen is no stranger to social justice and environmental activism, which she considers one issue. The Vice President of Communications at the Happehatchee Center, Rauen is literally the voice of the eco-spiritual center, Estero’s sanctuary for peace and healing. “As mothers, grandmothers and wise women, we have to show up and be the change,” says Rauen.
Rauen’s peace and justice activism efforts in her previous San Francisco residence transformed into environmental activism when she moved to Florida and jumped into the fray over protecting waterways and the wonders of the Everglades. Feeling compelled to protest the building of a coal-fired power plant in Glades County, she protested with Happehatchee founder Ellen Peterson, Florida Wildlife Federation Outstanding Environmentalist of 2008. “We eventually won through the use of many tactics and strategies, including, one of Ellen’s great ideas—to buy at least one or two shares of stock so I could go into stockowner meetings, stand up and speak the truth,” comments Rauen.
Peterson, who fought fearlessly for the environment right up to age 87, taught Rauen that 99 percent of being an effective environmental activist is showing up and being part of the power in numbers. “It’s why despite my age and health challenges, I’m still showing up for things like protecting the Estero River, which is heavily polluted,” says Rauen, who is also a Sierra Club member.
As the matriarch of her family, Rauen is mother, aunt, mentor and role model for her 24 nieces and nephews, along with the young Florida Gulf Coast University students who spend time on Happehatchee projects. “The most important thing we can do for our children is to take them outdoors in nature to play. It’s the only real classroom,” she says.
Showing up to protect the waters of the Estero River and the easement area, trees and wildlife along its Happehatchee banks means that Rauen regularly attends meetings of the Estero Village Council and collaborates with local groups such as the Stonecrab Alliance. “We worked together to ban fracking. Our most recent collaboration was the Water Blessing Event with clergy from eight different religious traditions and Betty Osceola, as well as Kat Epple and her musical partner Nathan Dyke. It was time to bring spirit into our activism for clean water, the most basic element that gives us all life,” advises Rauen.
Martha PaquinMartha Paquin, an accomplished artist. spends spring and summer months in her Illinois studio home, a seven-acre property, which she refers to as “The Waterfall”. An initiate of the Mandan tribal people’s White Buffalo Cow Society, she has an affinity for indigenous people. “I became friends with Carol Hart, producer/director of the film For the Next 7 Generations, which tells the story of 13 indigenous grandmothers from all around the world who came together to help us create a new way of life that will bring the planet back into balance before it’s too late. When I was a keynote speaker for the world convention of Unity churches in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last year, Carol showed the film and we had a discussion afterwards.
In 2013, Paquin, a 10-year veteran delegate to the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), traveled to the UN with a group of indigenous grandmothers from different tribes. “The indigenous wisdom and knowledge they shared on the great law of peace was as soothing as the ceremonies they
Donna Roberts (right), Mother Mãe Stella de Oxossi (center) and Sophia O’Sullivan
performed throughout New York City. We’ve remained connected through the Facebook page for Grandmothers Circle the Earth Foundation. It is one of many indigenous grandmothers organizations that has formed in fulfillment of a prophecy of a Navajo spiritual elder,” advises Paquin. UNCSW is the intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Paquin purchased her waterfall home located on sacred grounds near Indian mounds to insure that her grandchildren had a place to learn about nature. “In retrospect, I’ve learned more about nature than they have, and I convey the essence of it through my paintings and photography,” she enthuses.
Ann Smith with her two grandsons
Ann Landass SmithAnn Landass Smith, a firm believer that women are the true saviors of their land and communities, points to Professor Wangari Maathai, who started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. “She was the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for work that responded to the need for growing and planting trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood. The more serious issues behind her work were deeper issues of disempowerment, disenfranchisement and a loss of traditional values that previously enabled women in communities to protect their environment,” advises Smith.
The Chipko Movement in India preceded Maathai’s work. To increase ecological awareness and demonstrate the viability of people power, women who believed their land was sacred went from village to village creating a human chain with their arms. Women were most affected by the rampant deforestation, which led to a lack of firewood and fodder, as well as water for drinking and irrigation.
“It is our wisdom and intention to give voice to the feminine wisdom that can tip the scale of planetary consciousness,” says Smith. “We are wise elders stepping up to listen, speaking from our heart and experience and helping young people on deeper levels to develop a love for the Earth so that they can become environmentalists, too. This type of natural mentoring can be seen in Yemanjá, a documentary narrated by Alice Walker and produced by a friend of mine, Donna Roberts, who wanted the world to see the ecological sustainability and power found in community and faith via the stories of four extraordinary elder female leaders of the Afro-Indigenous Candomblé, the religion of nature that depends on access to the natural world in Bahia, Brazil. Yemanjá helps women to see the spiritual connection to Earth and nature that religious leaders are making. It also shows women as the spiritual leaders and wisdom keepers that we are.”
As a delegate representing non-governmental organizations at UNCSW for 30 years, Smith will roll out her spiritual leadership program based on the principles similar to those of Andrew Harvey’s Academy of Sacred Leadership and train others how to present and facilitate it. She says, “Andrew is a great spiritual teacher and author whose message is one of positive spiritual growth, love, compassion and listening within. When women learn to listen within to their intuitive voice, we know we are the ones to protect the environment because we are most connected to the elements through our menstrual cycle, giving life and nurturing.”
Photo Credit: M. S. KennedyBetty OsceolaBetty Osceola is a lot of things in addition to being a grandmother—an Everglades resident, member of the Miccosuckee Indian Tribe, environmental and social justice activist who opposes the River of Grass Greenway Project (ROGG) as well as fracking and polluting of our waterways, and an airboat captain at Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours, which she owns and operates with her husband.
Osceola sees herself and her grandchildren as makers of history. “We are leaving our footprint in time and our children and grandchild deserve the right to leave theirs. Therefore, as a grandmother I am a role model showing my grandchildren how to care about the natural world. In our culture, which is matriarchal, our teachings are passed down orally from generation to generation through women. We believe that in order for our culture and language to survive, it has to be practiced and delivered verbally,” notes Osceola.
Osceola’s actions are a way of life and showing her love for the natural world she is connected to. “My grandchildren see and hear me when I am speaking about nurturing and fostering respect for the natural world that they are apart of. They see me doing what I say, which reinforces the lessons. I wouldn’t expect them to understand these concepts as adults if they weren’t exposed to them throughout their childhood,” she says.
Because we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, but rather borrow it from our children, they want to see their wise women elders connected and paying attention to important things such as climate justice and climate solutions. They also want to see us taking action and speaking up to insure a healthy future for our planet. Osceola confirms this with an anecdote from the recent 80-mile Walk for Future Generations she organized to protest the ROGG and protect the Everglades.
“For the first time in the Walk for Future Generations demonstrations we had more young people than elders, which is very encouraging. Our youngest walker was still in the womb, while another was five months old. It was good to see grandmothers bringing their grandchildren and mothers giving their unborn children an early start on environmental activism,” quips Osceola.
B.C. Woman Organizes Care Packages To Fight The Northern Food Crisis
You know, we complain about the rising prices of food at the grocery store; but, these people in northern Canada are having to pay nearly $30 for a head of cabbage. These people are going days without food because they just can't afford it. Here's a story about a woman who is trying to help them.
The Huffington Post B.C. | By Sara Harowitz
Posted: 01/16/2015 2:01 pm EST Updated: 01/23/2015 9:59 am EST
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Nobody should have to pay $28 for a head of cabbage anywhere — let alone in Canada.
That's the belief that drives Jennifer Gwilliam, who spends her days organizing food care packages for people she's never met. But she's not even sending aid to a Third World country; she's sending it to Canada's remote north.
The high prices of groceries in Nunavut, for example — $47 for a box of laundry detergent or $105 for a case of water — have drawn increasing outcry from Canadians over the last few years.
"It was just shocking to see the prices they were paying for a head of cabbage or a flat of water," Gwilliam told The Huffington Post B.C. "I was just appalled. It's hard enough to make ends meet down here, let alone with those sort of prices. So I wanted to do something."
After doing some digging, Gwilliam came across the Facebook group Feeding My Family, designed to raise awareness about the northern crisis and advocate for change. But she wanted to turn outrage into action, so she started her own Facebook group, Helping Our Northern Neighbours, last summer.
Gwilliam's group matches people who want to donate packages of food and other necessities with those in the north who need it most.
People can either donate one box once, or choose to sponsor a family, meaning they regularly send care packages. There are no restrictions on what people can give, although many cater their boxes to the family they've been matched with.
Gwilliam, who was born in the U.S., lives in Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. She says she's always been involved in humanitarian work, but this is the first time she's been done so on a large scale in Canada.
"When I saw that people in the north were going often days without eating or were putting children to bed hungry I thought, 'This is like a Third World country and just shouldn't be going on in our own country,'" she said.
Elder Elisapee Ishulatak, 88, is pictured receiving a package of food. "I think the expression on her face says it all," said Jennifer Gwilliam. "Her daughter-in-law said she started crying and saying, 'Thank you' when she saw all the things."
There are over 400 names on Gwilliam's list of people seeking assistance; just under half have received help in some way so far. She said many of donors (from across Canada) are living paycheque to paycheque themselves, but that doesn't stop them from giving back. And everyone seems truly grateful for the help.
Candy Ivalutanar, who lives in Repulse Bay, Nunavut with her husband and two daughters under 10, said she cried the first time she received a care package.
"I told my husband, 'I thought I wasn't going to get anything. I thought nobody would want to ever help us.' It touched me so much," Ivalutanar told HuffPost B.C. She frequently tells her sponsor, who has sent a few boxes already, that she loves her.