Grandmother Agnes baker-pilgrim
takelma siletz
 USA, North America




"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is our gift, and we better use it wisely..."


Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim is a world-renowned spiritual leader and keeper of her people's Sacred Salmon Ceremony which she revived after 150 years. The ceremony had been lost to her people because too many Takelmas had been  killed. Survivors of the bloodshed were forced onto their own "Trail of Tears" and relocated to the reservation in Siletz, Oregon.

Tears fill her ey
es as Grandmother Agnes explains  the extraordinary nurturing power of the female salmon who sacrifices herself to fulfill her destiny. After a long and dangerous journey upstream to her place of birth, the salmon lays her eggs, then turns back downstream and begins to die.  During her slow death, her flesh falls into water and nurtures other fish. Her remains then nourish birds and animals who drink from the river and carry her minerals back to the land.

"Legend tells us that the salmon were people shaped like us that lived in a beautiful city below the ocean floor," Grandmother Agnes says.  "The spirit of the Salmon People chose to come back every spring and fall to feed the two-leggeds of this world.  Lots of people say 'Grandma Agnes, that's a terrible story!'  But I tell them the Salmon People chose to sacrifice themselves to feed us.

"I am a voice for the voice for the voiceless,"  she says.  "We are all speaking to an unseen world, speaking for our Mother Earth, trying to stop our spiritual blindness. We speak for the animal kingdom for those in the waters, for the four-leggeds and the one-leggeds (trees) ... and the creepy crawlers.  I pray our Creator hears us. The creatures have a right to be."

The number of salmon returning upriver to spawn has increased dramatically since Grandmother Agnes revived the ceremony. National Geographic magazine and Eastman Kodak have lent their support; Martha Stewart shared Grandmother's knowledge on her television program.

Grandmother Agnes Baker-Pilgrim is the oldest living female member of the Rogue River Indians. She was born September 11, 1924 near headwaters of the Siletz River in Oregon. Her grandfather was Chief George Harney, the first elected chief of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz.  Her Takelma and Siletz ancestors have lived in Oregon for 22,000 years. 

Grandmother Agnes's native name is Taowhywee, which means Morning Star.

Grandmother Agnes grew up poor. During the Depression, they had no electricity.  The family's nine children worked in the family garden. "At first we were given four plants to take care of. When I was old enough to go to school, I was responsible for four rows,"  she says.

By the time Grandmother Agnes graduated from high school, her parents had died and her brothers helped raise her.  She worked as a doctor's assistant and scrub nurse.  She married twice and had six children.  Her first two husbands passed away. She then married a Yurok man. Today she has 18 grandchildren and 27 great -grandchildren and a great-great-great granddaughter. All follow the traditional ways and walk a good path.

In 1982, Grandmother Agnes had cancer at was at death's door. She asked Creator to let her live because her family  needed her and she had a lot left to do in the world. A force began pulling her toward a spiritual path and she was told to cleanse her "inner self."  As she followed that path, a huge weight fell off her shoulders. Her sight opened up and she could see psychically see with her eyes closed. Grandmother Agnes promised to walk a path which honored and respected her ancestors and future generations.  She also vowed to fight to heal Mother Earth and the sacred places. "The dominant society does not agree with the native peoples' idea of sacred; they desecrate our spiritual places. We must stop this spiritual blindness, this inability to see and feel the sacred around us," she says.

At age 50, Grandmother Agnes attended Southern Oregon University, majoring in psychology and Native American studies. She also became a mentor and helped to found Konanway Nika Tillicum (All My Relations) Youth Academy.  Over the years, Grandmother Agnes has been nationally and internationally honored for her leadership, community service, and traditional ways.

The oldest of the 13 Grandmothers, Grandmother Agnes was asked to chair their council. She believes the Grandmothers are of the warrior essence handed down from generation to generation.  "The Ancient Ones are speaking through our voices," she says.  "From the getgo, this council originated from the Spirit World.  Every one of us has been called.  Through our prayers, we can touch the hearts of the people.  We can help stop spiritual blindness around the world. Our prayers can be brought from the four corners of the world for this work.  We can be the voice of strength, encouragement, and love, fighting for peace. Remember, even water dripping on a rock can make a difference."

Artwork: "The Twins, Eagle and Raven" by Grandmother Agnes

Text adapted from "Grandmothers Council the World: Women Elders Offer Their Vision For Our Planet"
by Carol Schaefer
Trumpeter Books, 2006


   Know Yourself

Excerpt from a teaching circle of Grandmother Agnes

Native Village News Articles

other news articles

Tribal Icon Feels Pinch in Finances
Chief grandma tells it how it is

Tribal elder keeps Salmon Ceremony

A return to tradition
Tribal elder hopes to rename falls
Hundreds support Siletz Tribe

Pair breathe life into dead language
Gold Hill approves name change
LCC to host first Peace Conference
S. Oregon Peak gets new name

The Ceremony at the Heart of "Salmon Nation"

  Know Yourself    
2010 Sacred Awakenings Series
An interview with Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim.  Available for listening or download. Transcripts available.
Grandma Aggie Promotes a Sustainable Lifestyle (on WPSU)
Radio interview from Penn State
Ancestral Voices in Defense of Biodiversity
Takelma Language Project Grandmother Agnes Baker-Pilgrim
Turtle Island Storyteller, Agnes Baker-Pilgrim
Audio: Grandmother Agnes Talks About Water
Confederated Tribes of Siletz
Historical Maps
Map views of historic and current tribal lands.
Sacred Salmon Ceremony
Salmon cooked the old way
An interview with Brent Florendo from Southern Oregon University
Brent explains the work of Native American students on campus during their annual salmon bake.

Where are the Takelma now?

Treaty between the United States and the Rogue River Indians (1855)])

JSTOR: Edward Sapir

The Takelma Language of Southwestern Oregon from Handbook of American Indian Languages.

The Athabaskan Language
Field notes on Tillamook and Chinookan dialects
Includes Siletz
Photo Gallery for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz

A Journey Through Time: Archaeology at St. Johns    
Location: Oregon   Length: 15 min



California legislature journal
This meeting on April 27, 2006 includes Grandmother Agnes as a guest.




The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers  Native Village Home Page

Salmon egg background:

Salmon photo: