Jul 30, 2007 - 04:03:20 CDTHOT SPRINGS, S.D. - Several times a day over three days, 13 women from around the world, several in their 80s, gathered around an open fire as each led a prayer ceremony unique to her native tribe.
After each outdoor gathering they moved into a convention center auditorium, where they exchanged ideas and learned about problems that plague the Oglala Lakota who live on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Among them: high unemployment, suicide, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, diabetes and contaminated water.
The women share a common vision and mission to spare future generations problems that now vex much of society.
"It's hard to be proud of your cultural heritage and traditions if every day you face extinction," Debra White Plume, of Manderson, told the women.
The women, formally called the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, come from Africa, Asia and the Americas. Their languages, cultures and traditions are as different as their lands.
"They're not women of politics. They're women of prayer," said Jeneane Prevatt of the Center for Sacred Studies in Sonora, Calif., who goes by the name Jyoti.
The indigenous grandmothers hope to ease war, pollution and social ills by teaching traditional ways that served their people long before the birth of modern peace and environmental movements.
Roughly every six months, they visit each other's homelands, most recently in June here in the southern Black Hills, near the Pine Ridge reservation that's home to two of the women, sisters Rita and Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance.
During the prayer ceremonies, they spoke very little. Often the only sounds were the crackling fire and traffic on a nearby road.
"We're praying for peace, which is not only the wars but in our homes and in the schools. We need that peace amongst children," said Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance, who believes social problems on the reservation are a direct result of people abandoning traditional ways of life.
The group first met in October 2004 in New York. So far their effort has earned them a meeting with the Dalai Lama and a relationship with the Bioneers environmental group.
The 13 women next plan to meet in October at San Rafael, Calif., for the annual conference of the Bioneers, who share the indigenous grandmothers' belief that there's a spiritual aspect to life and more to environmentalism than preventing pollution, said Nina Simons, co-executive director.
"We will never have environmental sanity and health while there are so many people living in abject poverty," she said.
The grandmothers and Bioneers also believe that natural solutions can fix many modern problems, such as using a type of mushroom to digest petroleum spills, Simons said.
"Part of our challenge is to learn to have a relationship with nature that makes it healthier and stronger instead of weaker and depleted," she said.
The Black Hills conference attracted people from the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Spain, France, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Nepal and Brazil.
Among the roughly 250 people attending the gathering was Jan Rhine, of Newberg, Ore., who was raised in Africa by missionary parents. She said the grandmothers movement makes her appreciate a simpler way of life.
"As technology has grown, along with the gifts it brings, we've lost our roots to nature, to Mother Earth and to each other. And what they are doing is bringing back these old ways that they and their tribes have carried throughout the centuries, bringing it back into this new modern technology to help us remember who we really are and what this planet is really about," Rhine said.