Tribal elder hopes to rename falls

Powerhouse Falls has been an important ceremonial and fishing site for the Takelma people for centuries

GOLD HILL An elder of American Indians who once made their home in a small village along the river here will seek council support Monday to rename the falls in honor of the people who fished its waters for centuries before being sent away.

Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, the oldest living descendant of the Takelma people will ask for the council's approval to rename the Powerhouse Falls along the Rogue River in honor of the former village dubbed Tilomikh.

Pilgrim said the site seemed more suited to a name for the people who lived there for so long rather than being named for a short-lived powerhouse.

Baker-Pilgrim noted that the site was home to an ancient "salmon ceremony," held by her people to ensure return of the fish that sustained her ancestors for years.

The tribal elder restored the ceremony, previously held along the Applegate, to its original site last year after discovering the place her grandfather held the ceremony in years past because of the presence of a "story chair" along the riverbed.

"These particular falls, it's where I do the salmon ceremony. It's a traditional place for our people," she said. "We're having the salmon ceremony there for the first time in over 150 years. This place is significant to my family and there's nothing in this valley that show my people lived here for thousands of years."

Steve Kiesling, who owns part of the site on which the salmon ceremony takes place, said that in his estimation the property still belongs to Baker's ancestors.

The ceremony took place for many years until the Takelma were either killed or marched to reservations in the 1850s.

Baker-Pilgrim and Kiesling said return of the ceremony, and naming of the falls for the Takelma people, would undo a small amount of the wrong that had occurred in the region.

"I think one of the things people forget is that a holocaust took place in this valley," Kiesling said. "A lot of people were murdered or sent away from their home. There's the thought that here we are now in this beautiful place and yeah, it is a really beautiful place, but there's also this sense of people who owned it originally.

"What they went through was the kind of trauma that gets passed through generations. Having her back, and undoing a tiny part of that in bringing back her family ceremony, is just a really cool thing."

After returning the ceremony to Gold Hill last year, Kiesling said he consented to allow them there. Set for June this year, the nearby dam will be permanently removed just days later to improve fish numbers in the river and water quality.

Recently named Council President Gus Wolf said the city favored the idea of honoring the Takelma people who once lived along the river. Wolf said Public Works Director Royal Gasso was working out the details on naming rights for the spot along the river, and he felt certain renaming the spot would not be a problem.

"I think it's part of our legacy part of Gold Hill before Gold Hill was Gold Hill. People in this valley could live anywhere they wanted and chose that little bend in the river. That's where they pretty much hung out," Wolf said. "We're always talking about birds and fish " but what about the native people that lived there for thousands of years before we did?"

Monday's meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 420 Sixth Ave. For details, call 855-1525.