Over 500 years ago, Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere first experienced the arrival of the Europeans (Spaniards and Italians under Spanish flag). When these strange looking men stepped off their ship and set foot on Arawak Territory (initially an island later named Hispanola), the first thing they did was plant the flag of Spain and declare the land their own. This action was under the authorization of certain papal bulls issued by the Pope . The pope authorized the conversion of the “discovered” heathens to Christianity or to “overthrow” and “subjugate” them.
On July 9, 2008, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers (the “Council”) arrived in Rome, Italy to address the Vatican papal bull. We were turned away.
The Council did not come to plant a “conquering” flag, but to lay a flag of peace and conciliation on the ground of the Vatican Square in front of the door to St. Peter’s Basilica. On the flag was laid a sacred staff and sacred prayer feathers, including a written statement from the Council, along with special items to be gifted to the Pope Benedict XVI. The grandmothers then lit smudging incense (sage, cedar, copal), gathered in a circle, and planted the prayer.
The grandmothers had tickets for the public audience of Pope Benedict XVI on July 9. Shortly after before their arrival, however, it was announced that the Pope’s public audiences for the entire month of July were canceled. The Grandmothers smiled and decided that as women of prayer they would go to the Vatican anyway, and deliver a prepared statement and make prayers on that holy ground. Their trip to the Vatican is part of their spiritual journey on a spiritual path, for the sake of Indigenous nations, all peoples, and all living things.
There were many tourists at St. Peter’s Square; most only glanced as they passed. Then a man suddenly stopped and watched for a moment. Perhaps the aroma of the burning sage and copal drew attention to the group’s activities. Suddenly, it was as though a reaction was triggered in him, and he yelled, “What you’re doing is anti-Catholic. Get out of here. I’m calling the police!” The Grandmothers looked at him and continued their prayer.
Soon thereafter, the Vatican police arrived, angrily shaking their fists in the air. They declared, “This is the Vatican State and you cannot do that here. You must leave, get out.” The grandmothers continued praying.
They traveled to Italy to meet and simply pray in peace. The grandmothers read a prepared statement with a timeline, detailing the historical efforts by Indigenous Nations and Peoples calling for the revocation of the papal bulls. The Grandmothers called the names of the individuals and organizations who supported the Grandmothers’ journey, channeling their thoughts into our prayers, strengthening this effort. As a finale, our youth ambassador, 9 year-old Davian Joell Stand-Gilpin, great-great-great-great granddaughter of Chief Dull Knife of the Lakota Nation, performed a traditional dance in celebration of the event.
The Grandmothers are certain that it is now time to open a sincere spiritual dialogue between the Catholic church and indigenous peoples to arrive at a meeting of minds and discuss the revocation of three antiquated and divisive papal bulls and edicts, Dum Diversas, June 18, 1952, Romanus Pontifex, January 8, 1455, and Inter Caetera, May 4, 1493.
Mona Polacca is a Hopi/Havasupai /Tewa elder working on her Ph.D at at Arizona State University. Mona has worked on issues of Native American alcoholism. domestic violence and mental health for the elderly native peoples. She is member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers.