13 Indigenous Grandmothers ― Recognizing the Interconnectedness of All Life

NOTE: This interview excerpt is transcript only

 Photo Credit: Sedona Creative Life Center

Photo Credit: Sedona Creative Life Center

“For me leadership is through heart to heart.”
— Indigenous Grandmother Maria Alice Campos Freire

The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers is an international alliance of indigenous elders that focuses on issues such as the environment and human rights. This community of women of prayer reflects diverse humanity bringing its best insights together in service to global sustainability and collective well-being. In this interview, we hear from Grandmother Maria Alice Campos Freire, who has led a spiritual community in the deepest parts of Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest reservation as a master healer, and Agnes Baker Pilgrim, who is a Takelma Indian Elder working to keep tradition alive by returning the Sacred Salmon Ceremony to her homeland in the Rogue River Valley of North America after 140 years. The two teach us about about the restorative leadership practice of recognizing the interconnectedness of all life.  


On Leading Transcript

Seana Lowe Steffen, host: What compels you to do the work that you do? 

Indigenous Grandmother Maria Alice Campos Freire, guest: I’m working to preserve the forests, and to preserve the knowledge about the forests that’s so sacred with very pure intention. And to teach children, that’s the most important, that they can take this and develop this and never let this be forgotten. That’s what inspires me. 

Indigenous Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, guest: When I was called to participate, I prayed for a couple months then I answered the call. I’ve been on a spiritual walk for many years. I felt that, through all of those years of gathering information and learning from the spirit world that I could help our planet, that I could help people to understand more about things in our planet. For instance the animal kingdom, most people don’t concern themselves with the animal kingdom. But I do because if we don’t have the animals, we’ll kill ourselves faster than we think. So I’m always praying to be a voice for the voiceless. Water has no voice. The Earth has no voice except ours. The birds have no voice, air and fire have no voice. So I was touring the globe to stop the silence because the animals need to make their sound, we need them on this planet. And they are part of our balance. Without them, we won’t be able to live very long. So I’m always being that voice. 

Seana: If you could wave a magic wand right now and change one thing in the world, what would you change and why? 

Maria Alice: I would change the sincerity. I feel if everybody could come to be sincere, then we would be able to overcome all of the challenges. We had this gathering with Grandma Rita in Alaska, and the sentence for her gathering was, “Healing the spirit from the light within.” That is what I believe.  

Agnes: I would use that magic wand to make good, free water to sustain all people. Water. Water is going to be a crucial thing, people are going to be fighting over water. It’s scary to me what we are going to face.  

Seana: What is distinct or unique about the leadership that’s needed at this time in our planet’s history? 

Maria Alice: First of all, what I said about being sincere and very humble, very humble. Being sincere and walking their talk. So you need to be really very focused in your heart, and very humble to go ahead and follow your own inner voice. I think when we are sure about what we are about in the world and we mean this with our actions, I think we become a light that guides others. So for me leadership is through heart to heart. To be a leader is through love. 

Agnes: We need people to be concerned about the animal kingdom; we need to be concerned about the cement on our mother earth’s face…. I always say when a tree breathes, I breathe; when I breathe a tree breathes. So we’ve got to be careful when we are constructing things, be aware that we are destroying something to put up something. The leadership of every state has to be more concerned about our environment than they have been because their existence depends on it. Things need to be done in moderation and balance. 

Seana: Maria Alice, you live in and work with something that many people around the world think means existence for everyone, and that is the Brazilian rainforest. So I was wondering if you could just say what the forest both means to you and what you think it means to humanity. 

Maria Alice: Yes, this is a special moment to answer that questions because the forest is under, how you say, threat, totally. It is being destroyed…. I cannot even understand that. I have a very special relationship to the forest because I have been gifted by the forest with my self knowledge. It’s incredible because there are billions of beings, and they are all in harmony. So the forest teaches this, like you see all those beings, they have a specific purpose, and they are what they came to be. They weave that beauty with that harmony. This is really so special. For me, I see it from this perspective of just kneeling before that manifestation of life. This is the last remaining, this kind of treasure on the planet: 600 billion big trees that are 600 years old, 1,000 years old, and they are killing these like a mosquito, like this killing life. It is a kind of committing suicide. This is what they are doing for the next generation, and it’s happening, you know? That’s why Mother Nature is responding. This is a very serious moment for us, human beings, to witness. That’s our own destruction, our own destruction.  

Seana: Grandmother Agnes, What do you believe are the barriers to living sustainability and what will it take to overcome them? 

Agnes: It’s pretty hard to make people to understand even the word being sustainable, but I keep on trying to help everywhere I go teaching about sustainability. Because I want people to understand, it’s not us adults that own the world in the first place, it’s the children. We’re not doing a good job taking care of it for them. You know, how do we change the thinking of our government?.... It is through their leadership that some of this falls through the cracks. They don’t do their job regarding sustainability. They have got to get some panovision — not tunnel vision. It should be about life and existence and how are we going to live? That should be their leadership concern. That’s what us 13 grandmothers are doing — trying to talk to the leaders of the world and asking them to take care of it for the children. We’d better be doing a better job than we’re doing.  

Seana: Is there anything else you would like to say? 

Maria Alice: I just want to say that we speak very much about peace, and the meaning for me of peace is all this we are talking about. If we are not sustainable, we cannot be peaceful. We are walking towards peace, but this lack that is there is about sustainability, you know. That is also something because we speak about, “Peace, peace,” but we need to become what we say. 

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Revive Indigenous Wisdom

The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers is an international alliance of indigenous female elders that focuses on issues such as the environment, internationalism, and human rights.


This book presents the insights and guidance of thirteen indigenous grandmothers from five continents, many of whom are living legends among their own peoples. The Grandmothers offer wisdom on such timely issues as nurturing our families; cultivating physical and mental health; and confronting violence, war, and poverty. Also included are the reflections of Western women elders, including Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, Helena Norberg-Hodge, and Carol Moseley Brown.


The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers is an alliance formed by 13 wise women moved by their concern for our planet. This film, shot on location over four years in the Amazon rainforest, the mountains of Mexico and at a private meeting with the Dalai Lama, documents their unparalleled journey and their timeless wisdom about a world in crisis.