Roger: I know that you are very interested in community. How do you define community?

Paula: A group of people who willingly live together in complex ways.

Roger: Do you see many examples of community?

Paula: I see a lot . . . but then I’m an old League of Women Voters member. When people talk about how not much is going on in their community, what they really mean is they are out of touch with what’s going on. There’s a world of things going on . . . art projects . . . educational projects . . . park projects . . . beautification projects. Every community is alive and vital. It’s your challenge to discover that vitality and be a part. If you feel out of touch it is because you haven’t taken time to learn.

Gangs build community – maybe not in ways we appreciate – but they build community. I remember a young woman who lived in The Projects in Los Angeles. She said she was never in danger when she got into the project. There was a number of natural-born clan mothers who cared for their community. When the riots broke out, they sent people out to watch what was going on. They sent word that it better not happen where they were. The violence never entered the project . . . it was always on the edge.

Roger: Can you describe the role of Clan Mother?

Paula: In my tradition, clan mothers are chosen by the people . . . not because they’re brilliant, charismatic leaders, but for their ability to listen. They know the people’s true heart. Clan mothers, in turn, choose what we call in English, “Chief.” They’re representatives of the clan, and they choose the male leaders. Their job is not just to choose leaders, but also to keep an eye on them. The standing joke is that three women always go with the representatives, two to cook and one to listen. Their responsibility is to report back, and if they don’t report effectively they become a non-clan mother very quickly. The men are participants . . . they are among the people to choose the clan mothers. So it is a self-reinforcing circle.

Roger: Have we lost the tradition of clan mother?

Paula: Native American communities haven’t, although some have less than others. In Iroquois country it still exists.

What happened in Europe was to stamp out clans and clan mothers. Wise women in most communities were destroyed and their status was never replaced. If you study, for instance, the abbesses, early in the Christian Church, they were extremely effective women who were leaders in science . . . music . . . you name it. People would flock to them. Bit by bit, that efficacy was taken away and female orders became subservient to male orders. All the things that used to be done by clan mothers, stopped being done. Now we’re going back to letting women do these things, but we’ve been going through a period where women who do these things, do them in male ways. We are in the process, I think, of having real clan mothers again who are thoroughly women and yet thoroughly leaders of the people.

Roger: Do you feel that the voice of women is being heard in a different way?

Paula: That has to start with women hearing their own voice in a different way. If you understand your own voice, you can always participate more effectively. I wouldn’t say women’s voices are yet being heard, but I think they’re being self-heard more clearly. I think human beings – male and female – are learning to hear that voice. That, in turn, changes the male voice because now the “poor lamb” doesn’t have to be responsible for absolutely everything . . . we can share responsibility . . . toil in ways that work for both groups. The only question is, are we wise enough to see that process happen?