In pre-colonial Cree society, the relationship between “the humans” and the “grandmothers and grandfathers” was a defining feature of that society. Arising out of that relationship came personal identity and social structure.
As the colonial era began to unfold, this core relationship between “the humans” and the “grandmothers and grandfathers” came under attack, particularly from the European Christian missionary movement, for complex reasons. Over centuries, this assault resulted in the near-total destruction of the core and defining relationship shaping Indigenous societies, leading to the chaos and trauma of today.
In the midst of all the chaos and trauma of modern Indigenous society, there are still a few knowledge holders who have retained the memory of the ancient social forms, and who continue to exercise their relationship with their “grandmothers and grandfathers”. One such “grandfather” is the Rock Grandfather, who supports, directs and informs the granite carver, Stewart Steinhauer, in his work.
The Rock Grandfather gives Steinhauer his identity, gifts him with a socially useful skill set so that he can make a meaningful contribution to society, and both directs and assists him in his day to day work as a carver. This is a literal illustration of the ancient relationship between “the humans” and the “grandmothers and grandfathers”.
Pre-colonial Cree society was a matri-focal society, woman at the centre, but not in a hierarchical power structure. Rather it was the living collective of woman, at any one moment in time, directed and assisted by their “grandmothers”. These “grandmothers”, themselves, worked in collectives, sitting together in groups of four. One of the groups of four is composed of Sky Woman, with her three helpers, Full Moon Woman, Thunderbird Woman, and Rainbow Woman.
As a granite carver, working under the direction of the Rock Grandfather, Steinhauer has depicted three of the four grandmothers in this “sky place nest”, but, to date, has not been able to find a granite suitable for representing Rainbow Woman. He recommends as a temporary measure laying a rainbow scarf or cloth alongside of his granite representations of the three grandmothers for whom suitable granites do exist.
The Rock Grandfather lives in the “rock under the soil”, to translate from Cree. The rock under the soil is the skin of mother earth, the earth’s crust or mantle, which is about 70% granite. That is why Steinhauer carves granite.
Exactly who or what the grandmothers and grandfathers are is a matter of experiential knowledge; you have to meet them personally and establish a direct relationship with them before you can begin to understand who they really are. The purpose of Indigenous ceremony is to actively create the right conditions for such personal meetings to occur.