By Jeff Firewalker
If there was ever a real super-hero who walked this great earth, I would say it was Grandmother Jacqueline Redleaf. She left this world at the age of nearly 90 on January 3rd of this year. With her passing, we lost one of the greatest living traditional lineage carriers and teachers. Grandmother used to say, “watch out, I’m a natural teacher, if you ask me what time it is, I am likely to tell you how to build a clock!” She has had a tremendous influence on my life and the Eagle Condor Council teachings.
Redleaf was a tireless advocate for children, the down-trodden and the abused. For many years she served in the court system as an advocate for those on the margins, especially young people. Because of the depth of her prayer, spiritual sight and dedication to native life-ways, Redleaf served as a “Beloved Woman,” the title reserved for exalted Elders, for nearly a dozen native north American tribes across America. As a Cherokee/Choctaw elder she had an unwavering commitment to tradition. During the decade I had the privilege of working with her, she was almost perpetually in ceremony and prayer.
Grandmother was a night-walker, meaning she slept very little. Perhaps only two hours a night. When I met her, she hadn’t really laid down in nearly ten years, opting for two deep meditations each day in her LazyBoy rocker. Despite the lack of rest, I never saw Grandmother yawn, neither did I ever experience her as anything but strikingly present and attentive. She was always steps-ahead of me, frequently knowing the question I was going to ask her ten minutes before I asked it!
Bolstering her significant prowess as a teacher and lineage carrier was her remarkable intelligence. As a polymath and prodigy, she read Plato before the age of ten, was a licensed private investigator, yoga teacher, high-performance automotive expert and race car driver. As a matter of fact she was America’s first female champion drag racer. Upon being asked by a reporter how she drove so fast, she once said: “ I drive it like I stole it!” A never ending source of humor and lightheartedness, Grandmother taught me the importance of having fun and ‘cutting up’ especially after doing serious and demanding work.
Her remote North Carolina residence was a destination for students, tribal leaders and healing practitioners from around the world. She would council, teach and share until her voice would give out. Sometimes she would say to me in a raspy voice, “ honey, I have done it again, I have yapped so much my voice has left me!” Yet, for every person she invited to be a student, there were hundreds who weren’t so fortunate. For me as a student, she served as a symbol of what it means to be a spiritual guide and lineage carrier. As with many native elders, teaching was conveyed though stories.
One of the greatest privileges of my life was being adopted by her as a grandson seven years ago and to have received so many life-changing teachings. I fondly remember countless hours sitting at her kitchen table listening to storied evidence of how she alchemized all the circumstances – the triumphs, trials and tribulations – of her life into teachings. My prayer is that one day I might achieve a fraction of the depth, a fraction of the potency of Grandmother Redleaf’s medicine walk. Grandmother, though there is sorrow in my heart that you are no longer with us on the physical plane, I know you are with me. Thank you.