Part of a series of articles titled Women's History in the Pacific West - Columbia-Pacific Northwest Collection.
Before her death on November 27, 2019 at the age of 95, Agnes Baker-Pilgrim was the oldest living member of the Takelma Tribe.1 Better known as Grandma Aggie, Baker-Pilgrim was deeply committed to her role as a tribal elder. She mentored Indigenous youth in Oregon while traveling the world well into her eighties as an activist for Indigenous and environmental rights. The Oregon Caves National Monument is part of the Takelma Tribe’s ancestral homelands, where they lived for thousands of years before American colonization radically altered their way of life. Baker-Pilgrim was an important advocate for recovering traditional ceremonies and fighting for Indigenous sovereignty into the twenty-first century, and her work has impacted the land and watershed around Oregon Caves.
Agnes Emma Baker, or Taowhywee in her native language, was born to George (Coos) and Evaline (Takelma) on September 11, 1924, the same year the US government extended US citizenship to all Native Americans.2 In 1870, Evaline’s father, George Harney, was elected the first chief of the new Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, created after people from 27 different tribes were forced onto reservations in the 1850s.3 Agnes Baker and her eight siblings were raised on the Siletz reservation, where they had to balance their Native traditions with Anglo expectations. She recalled speaking the Takelma language only at home and defying the Catholic church’s prohibition against traditional dances.4 As an adult, Baker-Pilgrim took on a series of diverse jobs from nightclub bouncer to stockcars racer to scrub nurse, all while raising six children.5
Around 1970, at the age of 45, Baker-Pilgrim found herself feeling “a restlessness” and soon became “a prayer person” committed to the “spiritual path.”6 This spirituality motivated her next fifty years of activism. Working with her third husband, Grant Pilgrim, of the Yurok Tribe, Baker-Pilgrim, in 1994, revived the Salmon Ceremony on the Applegate River for the first time in 140 years (since the Rogue River Wars of the 1850s).7 The Salmon Ceremony honors the returning salmon and is “an act of sharing and reciprocity for all people.”8 Thirteen years later the Ceremony finally returned to Ti’lomikh Falls on Rogue River, where it had been conducted for thousands of years before U.S. colonization.9 Baker-Pilgrim also improved salmon ecosystems by successfully lobbying for the removal of dams on the Klamath and Rogue Rivers.10
Education played a central role in Baker-Pilgrim’s activism. She attended college in her late fifties, graduating from Southern Oregon University with a degree in psychology and a minor in Native American Studies in 1985.11 In 1994, she collaborated with her husband Grant and professors from Southern Oregon University to create a Native American Youth Academy at the university called Konaway Nika Tillicum, which translates to “all my relations.”12 At this week-long program for Indigenous youth throughout Oregon, tribal elders and leaders prepare students from seventh to twelfth grade for higher education, while also promoting self-determination and strengthening community ties.13
Baker-Pilgrim’s identity as a grandmother to 18, great-grandmother to 27, and great great-grandmother to one child also fueled her advocacy.14 In October 2004, she was a founding member and the first chair of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. The council describes itself as a global alliance “to protect the lands where our people live and upon which our cultures depend, to safeguard the collective heritage of traditional medicines, and to defend the Earth Herself.”15 Baker-Pilgrim used this council to fight for the rights of Indigenous peoples, animals, and water around the world, being “a voice for the voiceless,” as she often described herself.16 Through her many programs and personal relationships, Grandma Aggie left behind a strong foundation to protect future generations and environments, including at Oregon Caves.
1 - Gillian Flaccus, “Agnes Baker Pilgrim, of Oregon’s Takelma tribe and global advocate of indigenous rights, dies,” Statesman Journal (Salem, OR), November 29. 2019, https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2019/11/29/agnes-baker-pilgrim-of-oregons-takelma-tribe-and-global-advocate-of-indigenous-rights-dies/4330917002/; John Darling, “‘Grandma Aggie’ dies at 95,” Mail Tribune (Medford, OR), November 27, 2019, https://mailtribune.com/news/top-stories/takelma-elder-agnes-baker-pilgrim-grandma-aggie-dies-at-95.
2 - “Agnes Baker in the U.S., Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940,” 1937, roll M595_459, page 2, line 13, Salem Indian School, database on-line, Ancestry.com, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75, national Archives, Washington, D.C.; “Agnes Baker Pilgrim (Oregon)” in Grandmothers Counsel the World: Women Elders Offer Their Vision for Our Planet by Carol Schaefer (Boston, MA: Trumpeter Books, 2006), 15-20.
3 - “Ancestry,” Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim website, accessed August 18, 2020, http://www.agnesbakerpilgrim.org/Page.asp?PID=98; “Takelma Tribe,” Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve, National Park Service, last updated February 28, 2015, accessed August 18, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/orca/learn/historyculture/takelma-tribe.htm.
4 - “Biography,” Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim website, accessed August 18, 2020, , http://www.agnesbakerpilgrim.org/Page.asp?PID=97.
5 - “Biography,” Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim website.
6 - Agnes Pilgrim, “From Grandma Aggie,” World Pulse Magazine, 2005, reprinted on Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim website, accessed August 18, 2020, http://www.agnesbakerpilgrim.org/Page.asp?PID=89.
7 - “Takelma Tribe,” National Park Service; Schaefer, Grandmothers Counsel the World.
8 - Stephen Kiesling, “In Memory of Grandma Agnes Baker Pilgrim,” Spirituality & Health, January 9, 2020, https://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/2020/01/09/in-memory-of-grandma-agnes-baker-pilgrim.
9 - Kiesling, “In Memory of Grandma Agnes Baker Pilgrim”; Maureen Flanagan Battistella, “SOU gives highest honor to Takelma elder Pilgrim,” Mail Tribune (Medford, OR), August 16, 2019, https://mailtribune.com/news/top-stories/sou-gives-highest-honor-to-takelma-elder-pilgrim.
10 - Darling, “‘Grandma Aggie’ dies at 95”; International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, “In Honor of Grandmother Agnes ‘Taowhywee’ Baker Pilgrim,” blog, accessed August 18, 2020, https://www.grandmotherscouncil.org/in-honor-of-grandmother-agnes-taowhywee-baker-pilgrim/.
11 - “Biography,” Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim website; Linda Schott, “Grandma Aggie: today is our gift,” Southern Oregon University, August 16, 2019, https://sou.edu/president/grandma-aggie-today-is-our-gift/.
12 - Flanagan Battistella, “SOU gives highest honor to Takelma elder Pilgrim.”
13 - “About Konaway,” Southern Oregon University, accessed August 18, 2020, https://inside.sou.edu/natam/more-about-konaway.html.
14 - “Biography,” Taowhywee, Agnes Baker Pilgrim website.
15 - International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, “Alliance Statement,” October 13, 2004, accessed August 18, 2020, https://www.grandmotherscouncil.org/alliance-statement/.
16 - Pilgrim, “From Grandma Aggie.”
Acknowledgements:This project was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.
This project was conducted in Partnership with the University of California Davis History Department through the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, CA# P20AC00946
- oregon caves national monument & preserve
- agnes baker-pilgrim
- agnes emma baker
- takelma tribe
- confederated tribes of siletz indians
- salmon ceremony
- applegate river
- rogue river
- oregon native american youth academy
- oregon caves national monument
- native american women
- women's history
- shaping the political landscape
- women and politics
- environmental history
- women and the environment
- women and the arts
- religious history
- indigenous heritage
- indigenous history
- native american history
- womens history in the pacific west
Last updated: February 22, 2022