Takelma-Siletz Elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim: Honoring the Water

Before she blesses the Willamette River, pouring into it a vial of similarly blessed water from around the world, Takelma-Siletz spiritual elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim thanks the natural elements, including the cloud people, for their cooperation. The latter answered her prayer to hold off so that it would be a nice day for people to gather. The sun is shining on this perfect day, April 26, 2008 in Eugene, Oregon. That is something to be grateful for after six weeks of unsettled weather.

“Grandma Aggie” is here to help us honor the water. She tells the gathered crowd of two hundred that the water hears us when we thank it for cleaning us and quenching our thirst. “We are all water babies”, she says, reminding us that we are composed largely of water.

In her eighties, Grandma Aggie is the oldest member and chair of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers whose goal is to “circle the globe” with social and environmental healing. As stated in the book that tells their story (Carol Schaefer, Grandmothers Counsel the World), this remarkable community of holy women came together in October 2004 (post 911) from “the Amazon rain forest, the Arctic Circle, the vast plains of North America, the highlands of Central America, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the mountains of Oaxaca, the desert of the American Southwest, the mountains of Tibet, and the rain forest of central Africa” in “an alliance of prayer, education, and healing for our Mother Earth-for all Her inhabitants, for all the children, and for the next seven generations”.

Grandma Aggie has visited the lands of the other grandmothers and seen firsthand the lamentable pollution of the world’s greatest rivers. She has also experienced increasingly widespread drought in the global arena. She says Mother Earth is withdrawing her water, taking her precious source of life back into her womb-as she will continue to do if humans continue to treat our water as we are. The sign she requested for the water-honoring ceremony reads, “The River is not a Garbage Dump.”

Grandma Aggie jokes that if she were to write a personal memoir, it would be entitled, “Everybody’s Grandma”. With the humility befitting a spiritual leader she resisted assuming her current leadership role at first. She did not think she would live up to the model of her Takelma (Rogue River) ancestors like her grandfather George Harney.

Harney saw her people through terrible times following their removal far from their homelands to the Siletz Reservation. When the government informed one Rogue River elder, Whiskus, he had signed an agreement to vacate his land and come to Siletz, he insisted he had not understood he agreed to any such thing -it made “his heart sick”. It was a grave sickness, indeed. In the early days at Siletz, Indian Agent Metcalfe noted among the residents of Rogue River descent, “a depression of spirits” so serious that those who suffered from it died. Indeed, far from their homeland, with no food or shelter, 205 out of 590 (the remnants of several thousands) Rogue River Indians died at Siletz within a year.

For two decades after their forced removal to Siletz, the survivors of the Rogue River people worked to build homes on the new land. Then the government decided to remove them the lands they had worked at Siletz-and open up those lands to white settlement. When the government informed them of their decision in 1873, George Harney (Olhatha), Chief of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz, protested: “We do not want to be driven away. We were driven here, and now this is our home, and we want to stay.” Harney also went on record to state that his people were tired of token gifts of blankets, tobacco, and shirts-and were ready to receive their promised treaty goods of teams and wagons and tools-and schools for their children.

Grandma Aggie doesn’t speak of this bleak history before the gathering of the Willamette Valley Grandmothers, one of the local grandmothers’ councils springing up on the model of the global council everywhere. She is too busy finding the good in everyone. “You could put me on death row”, she laughs, “And I would find the goodness in the inmates there”.

She does express her hope, however, that the Thirteen International Grandmothers will get the audience with the Pope they have requested. They want him to rescind the Vatican edict of 1493 that supported the killing of “non-believers” on lands discovered by Europeans. “He wasn’t there”, Grandma Aggie says, “He didn’t do it”. Thus it wouldn’t hurt him to take that edict back. And it would do a great deal of good, as it did when the Australian government recently apologized to the Aborigines.

These days Grandma Aggie travels the globe, but she is also leading a resurgence of spirit and culture on her homeland. Last year she re-instituted her people’s sacred salmon ceremony at its ancient site. This year’s salmon ceremony will be a large gathering-even as Grandma Aggie continues to invite more and more people to attend. She has arranged to generously feed all the travelers who will arrive for the three day ceremony. She has also done research to house and feed the group in an environmentally friendly way. It is only fitting in a ceremony that praises the sacrifice of the female salmon that fight their way upstream to continue their people even as their bodies become nourishment for “thirty-three kinds of birds and forty-four kinds of animals”.

“Walking her talk” consists of caring for all the species who share this earth with us. “If the polar bears and the elephants and the tigers aren’t in good shape, than we’re not in very good shape either”.

There are many things to mourn in our world today, but Grandma Aggie counsels happiness. “You should live each day as if you were to die tomorrow. When you live with one foot in the other world as I do, you know how important it is to make the most of each day.”

For Grandma Aggie each day is comprised of soulful commitments and earthly delights. She smiles when she sees another of those dragonflies that surround her. The name of Transformer who made the earth good for people in venerable Takelma stories was Daldal- Dragonfly. The dragonflies that accompany her everywhere remind her of the presence of her ancestors. They also let her know the Creator is helping her as she “walks her talk”.

Grandma Aggie’s vision requires a transformation as great as Daldal’s in those Takelma stories. But she does not plan to do it alone. “I have a ship run by the L-word. It’s friendship and it’s run by love.”

Without skipping a beat she adds, “I am happy.” That is what she wishes for all of us. She advises us to laugh every day, telling us how good this is for us.

Later, when I pause to say good-bye to Grandma Aggie, she grins and says, “It was a good day, wasn’t it?”

———

For additional inspiration on grandmothers active for social and environmental justice, check out the Raging Grannies and Holly Near’s song, 1000 Grandmothers.

The Alliance for Democracy also has a campaign to protect water quality and public access to global waters.

Feel free to pass on the material in this post, but please cite its source. Thank you.

208 Responses

  1. Madronna, Thank you! This shines clearly, beautifully as a reflection of a special occasion, and respectfully presents the experiences, ideas and words of Grandma Aggie.

  2. Thank you, Ruth. I feel blessed to have been able to be a part of this event–and I’ve been feeling the connections between all the waters around us in a powerful way all day.

  3. Two points–First, what a great opportunity to meet Agnes Baker Pilgrim. As I began reading “Grandmothers Counsel the World” by Carol Schaefer, I wanted to curl up and read through the book. As I read this piece, I learned more about the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.
    Second, after visiting the Makah reservation in Neah Bay, WA this summer, I see the importance of water and fishing rights for the survival of their nation. Yet, I also see in the Great Lakes region an awareness of people, both native and other, to preserve the quality and distribution of water in the Great Lakes. I suppose it takes baby steps, but it seems like we’re moving in the right direction.
    A question–Did the Pope agree to meet with the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers?

  4. Hi Kathleen,
    The Pope never did agree to a meeting with the grandmothers; that is why they planned to go to his public audience to see if they could raise their question. They did, however, obtain permission to hold a public prayer service in front of the Vatican.
    It is a privilege indeed to know Grandma Aggie– a privilege that extends from her generosity in reaching out to so many as “everybody’s grandma”.
    Since all waters are ultimately related, working to protect the waters of the Great Lakes is as important (especially since that is where you are) as protecting Makah rights on the Olympic Peninsula. Baby steps is what we must all begin with. Right now a pressing issue is the decision of the Canadian government to mine “oil sands” in areas that would effect the water quality of the lakes. (Check this out on the latest issue of Rachel’s Environmental Weekly Oct. 9 issue at Rachel.org).

  5. I have been grateful to have begun learning about the 13 Grandmothers Council. It is amazing to have Agnes Baker Pilgrim (Grandma Aggie) active in the Oregon area. I have always loved Oregon and the Pacific Northwest and am very touched to have parts of the area blessed. It made perfect sense to view the earth as withholding our water or other resources as generations lately have been abusing them. Water being one of the most sustaining substances on the earth, is extremely important. This article reminded me of the experiments completed by Professor Emoto (who is also President of the International Water for Life Foundation) as he explores the deeper importance of water. He believes that water has more than just a thirst quenching ability to life. Since our bodies are mostly made up of water it is critical to take all theories into account in order to life a happy, sustaining life. I really enjoyed reading how happy Grandma Aggie is with her place and connection to nature in life. It seems to me that if more people were able to follow her example and discover the more rewarding aspect of life not only people but the world would benefit from such changes.

  6. Thank your for the comment that expresses both your thoughtfulness and your personal care, Ashley.
    I think the world is much larger than we can account for in any calculation of it.

  7. Grandma Aggie sounds like she is one of those people that changes you life after meeting them. I think that it is so telling that her Dragonfly name means Transformer, and that is exactly what she is doing. She is transforming the way that they people she meets treat nature and natural resources. She is also transforming the way that people treat each other as she emphasises finding the positive in everyone.

  8. Grandma Aggie does love Dragonflies and she does feel they express the presence of her ancestors–an interesting perspective on this point, Kelly. She is certainly a transformer herself in her work for social and environmental justice.

  9. What was inspirational in this article was that Grandma Aggie kept her spirits up even when others did not. Her beliefs ring true in our world today. If we don’t respect what mother earth has given us than she will as Grandmother Aggie said “mother earth is withdrawing her water, taking her precious source of life back into her womb- as she will continue to do if humans continue to treat our water as we are”. This is such a true statement, humans lack respect. We all need to contribute to keeping our natural resources available for the future

    • Thank you for your comment, Dianna. I agree that one of the most impressive things about Grandmother Aggie is her resilience and spirit in the face of overwhelming odds-and she is making a difference with all those she touches.

  10. I was very impressed by this article. Grandmothers who are divided globally but are united in purpose. These grandmas who come from different parts of the world have come together with a goal to “circle the globe” and pray for social and environmental healing. I believe the grandmas will be a powerful force that will raise awareness and have a positive impact on the earth and all of its inhabitants. The grandmas share their combined wisdom in a loving and positive manner that people are receptive to. Once people receive the message then they can respond and positive changes will occur. Spiritual grandmas such as these, tap into a source that most people do not know of – the power of prayer – the power to move mountains. The grandmother’s have brought life into the world and now with love they bring a message of preservation for earth and all that inhabit it. Receive it, respond to it, and share it with others.

  11. Oh my gosh this is amazing. I had no idea that a person like existed in this day and age. Especially in the Willamette Valley. Grandma Aggie is an inspiration. The grandmothers that are around the world and visit each other to bless the land and the water that the earth provides to the human race. It is so extraordinary how unique this group and how they can inspire so many things by doing so much and so little. Their lives are filled with joy and looking for the good in everything and everyone is something that needs to be more widely valued. These grandmothers seem to be amazing people and anyone would have a great deal of respect for them.

    • Thanks for your comment on the inspiration of the grandmothers, Chelsea. I do want to remind everyone of the book about their work, Grandmothers Counsel the World–and there are links to the websites of both
      Grandma Aggie (“a voice for the voiceless”) and the thirteen indigenous grandmothers on this site.

  12. I appreciate this post. The wisdom we can receive from Grandmothers often goes unnoticed. I am inspired by the story as well as the mission of the13 grandmothers circling the globe. I am inspired that we each have a role in preserving our world while taking part in living our lives beyond ourselves but for the whole of our people, nature, and community.

  13. Grandma Aggie’s appreciation and honoring of water serves as a good reminder for us of how valuable this resource is, and how grateful we should be for having it available to us. Although water covers the larger part of our planet, most of it is salty, and millions of people (in Africa, for example) still suffer from water shortages, whether it’s for uneven distribution of water or for other reasons (panda.org).

    Also, I don’t know much about the history of the United States, but if what’s in this post is true, then it’s really saddening how the government fooled the Rogue River people into signing that agreement and forced them to leave their homes. I can imagine how devastated these people were if one third of them died within a year from moving to Siletz! (obviously, having no shelter or food certainly worsened things for them)

    • Thanks for your comment, Yousef.
      Shows both personal thought and care. Water is one of our most precious resources: we can survive without oil, but not without water!

  14. I was touched when reading this story. I have never heard anything about Grandma Aggie or the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. I like the way she embraces life. Living each day like there is no tomorrow and always finding something to smile about. When my time comes I want to look back at my life and have no regrets. Grandma Aggie’s attitude of living life to the fullest is the best way to do just that.

  15. Dr. Holden,
    One of the most striking quotes from this passage for me was how Grandmother Aggie is continually looking for the good in people. This is a woman who belongs to and morns for a people who have lost so much and yet she still has the heart for compassion. Rather than using her tragic history as an excuse to hate- she uses it as a motivation to make the world a better place and reestablish customs that were important to her culture and people. How content her heart must be. We need more people like Grandmother Aggie who search for the good in everyone and wish happiness to all.

  16. One of the points that struck me in this post was how connected Grandma Aggie is to not only her natural surroundings, but to people as well. She makes a point of seeing the good in all she encounters and is striving to heal that which is being broken in a positive and inspirational way. I am touched by her capacity to love and how that love is being translated into action. She is making great strides on behalf of her people and is reaching out to the rest of the world to show us how we can reconnect with our land and that by doing so, we can heal it. Healing of our waters, air and land can come from reconnection to them and respect for them. Grandma Aggie is a great role model for doing just that!

    • Hi Kathleen, thanks for your comment. The connection you aptly point out is inspirational indeed. The meaning of “healing” is to “make whole”– thus there is a profound healing potential in our coming together, “making whole” with one another as well as with the waters and land in order to heal them.
      Grandma Aggie is an amazing role model with her contagious good will and the energy with her indefatigable work for justice. Let’s hope we are all as courageous and full of the life she defends when we are in our eighties!

  17. Wow, I truly enjoyed this article! It has been inspiring to read about Grandma Aggie and her life mission to always find the good in people. I also love her outlook on life: to live each day to the fullest and enjoy life while you have it. It’s very easy to lose sight of the blessings in life and I hope to develop her sense of pure love for each day. My favorite quote was actually not by her but in the margins of the article: “Be inevitable:
    Fight the way the sun fights for the day.”
    This quote inspires me to fight to appreciate what I have in life and find joy in the uncertainties of life 🙂

    • Wonderful, Randa. Thanks for your comment. These lines are the first two of my poem, Badger Medicine, on the topic of fierce work for healing what needs to be healed on this planet, place here by request.
      Thanks for your personal passion in fighting for what you appreciate–and thanks as well for the reminder to find joys in the uncertainties of life.

  18. What an interesting story! As I was reading I found myself inspired by Grandma Aggie as well. Hearing of her outlook on life was truly an inspiration and really opened my eyes up about my own life.

  19. Grandma Aggie is right and I agree with her. Water is what everything in this life is made of. Honoring the water means honoring the people, nature, animals, air, and so on. Also, as we value of the water, the water will give us the power and take care of us.
    Everyone in Earth should read this article because it touches an important fact. If everyone read it and value the water, we will all live in love.

  20. Grandma Angie seems like a wonderful woman. Her joy seems both inspiring and infectious, it’s a beautiful thing to see a person who believes with all of their heart in what they are doing and they walk the walk and they talk the talk. She seems like she lives her entire life in the way that she presents her self to other people. It’s easy to spot a consistent and real person.

  21. I felt a lot of emotions while reading this post. While reading, I thought of an advertisement that I saw recently. It showed a tranquil body of water. Beautiful, crystal blue clean water. In the middle of the picture, the water begins to rise up and spirals into a double helix (denoting science) with power cords on the end (denoting technology). The header on the ad reads “The Power of Leadership” and the copy subtitle reads “Turning water into power.” The ad then discusses things like clean water and electricity. Those are good things, but I cannot help but be put off by what the ad suggests. It suggests dominion over the water, that we can take it and use it for power. The word “power” has a strong dual meaning here, as the artificial construct of the “power” of leadership is brought about by the natural and beautiful “power” of water. It is simply another ad that suggests that we can use nature to further ourselves without regard for its intricacies and its needs. It smacks of the ideals of patriarchy, speaking of how we as a society, (as Sir Bacon put it), torture nature to learn of its secrets. However, there is a glimmer of hope in the midst of all of this. People like Agnes Baker Pilgrim give me hope that our society may, one day, realize the true intrinsic value of everything they are taking from the earth. Her recognition of the water as having and giving life is touching and deserved. We need to think about what the water is giving us, and thank it (or at least be truly thankful for it, if one does not believe that the water has a spirit).

    • Hi Amanda, I really like your perception about the two kinds of power: one is a power over something else and one is a power that comes from vitality and spirit–and the persistence– of natural qualities like that of water. I agree that Grandma Aggie reminds us of the intrinsic value of water that has and thus imparts life to us.
      If we felt this as she does we would certainly be less likely to pollute our rivers and draw down our water tables for things like watering lawns in summertime.

  22. I recently have not following closes to my values in light of the environment. Serendipitously, this was a perfect read for where I am in my life. I only wish that I could be as wise and at peace as Grandma Aggie appears to be. Moreover, I wish that the majority of the world could share her apparent serenity. I am troubled because sometimes I get caught up in seemingly conflicts with my respect for the earth and all that is on it, including myself. I enjoyed reading this and it was a refreshing reminder why I do care. That may not makes sense, needing to be reminded as to why I care, but I loose hindsight at times. I am not sure why. I think when I figure that out the problem will coincidentally work itself out.
    I was especially filled with admiration when Grandma Aggie speaks about finding goodness in everyone; even the inmates on death row. I strive to embody that lack of judgment one day.

    Thank you
    Dana

    • Hi Dana, I am glad this reading matched the place of your personal journey. Grandma Aggie models something for us all to aspire to. We all need reminders from other members of our communities about why it is important to care. I have a ways to go to find such goodness in everyone myself– but with the help of my students, I am working on it!

  23. Her where I live in Hawaii, the teachings of Agnes Baker Pilgrim would be greatly appreciated. While we do have Hawaiian conservation activists that seek to restore a balance between humans and nature, there are very few who are outstanding personalities that transcend across cultural boundaries. Her approach toward thanking the salmon people for their sacrifice to help feed humans would definitely coincide with the teachings of native Hawaiian elders that lived in balance with fish populations for thousands of years before the arrival of whites in Hawaii. Native teachings in Hawaii have always emphasized a spiritual connection to the land and to harvesting food. Whereas now we have institutions like Costco that have virtually overthrown the native way of live, many people in Hawaii seek to return to more of a partnership world view. It would be good for people in Hawaii to be exposed to her teachings, and perhaps find their way back to a more sustainable and spiritual way of life.

    • Thanks for pointing out the power of Grandma Aggie’s approach in your own context. I find it heartening that she chair the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers who travel the world talking about the issues that concern them: next fall Aggie will be in Japan. I don’t know of an Hawaiian elders who are tied into this network– or if she has ever visited there.

  24. It sounds like Grandma Aggie would be a very calming person to know. I found it interesting that the Honoring the Water ceremony took place here in my hometown and yet I knew nothing about it. In a city such as Eugene, where the environment appears to be so important, I would have thought that this would have been newsworthy across the valley. I don’t remember hearing anything about it, and I think I would have remembered it.

    • Thoughtful point, Kristen. The organizers of this ceremony did try to interest news media in it, but it wasn’t a crisis and so most weren’t interested. However, as it becomes an annual event (this year’s announcement in on this site) more and more folks learn of it by word of mouth if nothing else–and now you do know of it as well.

  25. I love that Grandma Aggie and the Counsel of Grandmothers get such respect and recognition and wonderful work, such as reinstating the salmon ceremony and honoring the water. She draws attention to simple principles that many write-off as being just that: simple. However, without simple things like clean water, appreciation for goodness, a desire for balance and all creatures being in “good shape”– we cannot hope to be healthy and happy ourselves.
    One of the things I really like about Grandma Aggie is that her work helps defy several stereotypes and stigmas in our modern society. She is a woman, a minority and she is a grandmother. These are three categories often assumed to be less competent simply because of their status. Grandma Aggie shows that age, race and sex have little to do with ones power to fight for the rights of the environment and if anything, she is aided by her years, culture and femininity. Grandma Aggie in some ways reminds me of my own grandmother in her defiance of social stigmas. My grandmother, though 82, is more than competent at running a household (complete with all the modern technologies), driving, volunteering, mentoring and heading a very large family. She is respected and looked up to because of her wisdom and life experience, as she should be and as Grandma Aggie should be.

  26. It’s really awesome that these ceremonies are not only still performed but that crowds gather to watch. It is too often that cultures and traditions are drowned out by the modern industrial societies, or the effects of globalization. It is reassuring to hear of people in leadership capacities, like Thomas Berry, and the Australian government speaking about the importance of respecting indigenous peoples. This is an idea that runs counter to the foundations of most societies today, and I personally agree with this value.

  27. First off, I love the visual imagery of “taking her precious source of life back into her womb” in reference to diminishing supplies of clean water. Grandma Aggie sounds like she has taken an amazing leadership tactic; promoting environmental awareness through positivity. We often see various environmental groups take on a doomsayer’s approach, almost like that of a religious declaration (“Repent, or be damned!”). Instead the message is along the lines of, “Conserve, or the world will be destroyed!” While I am not downplaying the importance of environmental action, I feel scare tactics are not always the appropriate approach. Grandma Aggie instead, “is too busy finding the good in everyone” and “counsels happiness”. Hers is definitely a holistic approach, acknowledging the sanctity of all life. While environmental groups may picket and protest, Grandma Aggie takes on a Martin Luther King Jr. approach, promoting awareness and calls to action through peace.

    • I appreciate your perspective on Grandma Aggies’ positivity here, Breannon. I think this also entails courage (since she is also carrying a deep sorrow about negative environmental changes and she is often in pain from her arthritis as she travels the world). Still she is able to inspire everyone she meets (or at least I haven’t seen anyone untouched by her presence). Her approach is not one of punishment and recrimination, but of compassion for the human and more than human lives we lose from foolish actions– though I have heard her say that the results of male leadership around the globe indicate we might be better off letting women assume the leadership for a change.
      And she is above all a healer, making bridges with the power of love and kindness.
      And yes, a holistic approach!

    • I have actually come across several articles recently that point out that environmental messages are more effective when they provide hope or positivity–apparently the “doomsayer’s approach,” as you described it, ends up making a lot of people feel like we’re screwed anyway, so there’s no point in trying to change anything. I also think Grandma Aggie’s approach is healthier, particularly her advice to “laugh every day” (I think there’s a scientific basis to that advice, but regardless I know that it does tend to make me feel better and put things in perspective). I think it is an approach that also makes it easier to build connections (and thus dialogue), rather than just telling people what to do (and in the process sparking indignation).

      • This is similar in public health. “Scare tactics” as a form of changing health behavior is rarely beneficial (i.e. the old “this is your brain on drugs” commercials).

      • Thoughtful perspective, Crystal. You can likely tell what my approach is– that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t face our dilemmas, but doing so in such a way that we are active and empowered is the issue for me. Being mired in gloom (however much grief we might feel over current crises) doesn’t seem to do anyone much good.

  28. “The river is not a garbage dump.”

    It is very heartening to know that others realize what is happening to the water and charge themselves with sharing their knowledge of a better time and a better way. As a living testament to the abundance of the past, Grandma Aggie allows us to believe that it can be that way again, if we hurry.
    Finding the positive, even on death row, is what a grandma is all about, respect for all living things.

    • Thanks for your comment, Barbara. I like your statement about Grandma Aggie’s being a “living testament to the abundance of the past”. I think she is a testament as well (as you indicate) to the potential abundance today– including the abundance of kindness that she models.

    • Hi,

      “The river is not a garbage dump.”

      I believe Grandmother Aggie’s statement conveys a much broader perspective about the earth not being “ours” to do with it whatever we wish, but something that we are a part of and so should respect accordingly.

      It never ceases to amaze me how some of the most humble souls like the Grandmothers can provide the best advice about issues as great in scope as the environment. It proves that you don’t need to be a politician or authority figure to share sound wisdom.

      • Indeed, Mac. Perhaps we are more willing to be led by the example of such “humble” souls because of their personal authenticity and compassion– who share their ideas without any self-serving motives.

  29. First, I think it is awesome when a person can be thankful for what creation provides in the midst of the current turmoil that the world is in. Living like it is your last day on earth is great wisdom and for me, gives inspiration and hope. Because it seems days can be a grind and it is hard to see past the daily conflicts that come about. When a person thinks of everything that is wrong with the world, it can darken the spirit and the soul. So finding the good and the light within the day through creation or what God’s gift to us is through Creation, is hope daily. When I was a child, we sang “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”. It didn’t seem difficult to rejoice at the time, but today, it’s seems more difficult. Today, I was walking to the mailbox and saw a bird flutter by and heard it’s voice. I still remember that moment so these are the moments I dwell on at the end of the day. I think that Grandma’s message to smile and laugh is a good one, so for me, I hope to pass this one on.

    • Thanks for your comment in response to the “inspiration and hope” in the actions of this remarkable grandmother, Tina. I am glad you will be passing this heartening message on. I know it is hard not to feel grief at our current environment losses–but I also think this should make us hold close to us the gift of this world all the more. Thanks again for sharing your care and feelings here.

    • Birds have a special place in my life Tina. Because I had an abundance of energy and my hair was blue/black, my father called me “little black bird.”

      Ravens followed me all the way from Nebraska to Tillamook where a Cooper’s hawk raised her young in the tree outside my window. They told me “this is the place.”

      As the dragonfly is to Grandma Aggie, birds are to me. They are my totem. To me, a totem is to remind us that we are not alone, that there was something before and there will be something after. That is a hopeful thought don’t you agree?
      Hope always lifts my heart and makes me smile and I can share that when I can’t share anything else.

      I hope you hear your totem when she calls, or maybe, you already have.

  30. The idea of Mother Earth “withdrawing her water” because of our treatment of it reminds me of how my parents would react during particularly bad weather phenomena–it was always something along the lines of “Mother Nature is mad” usually followed by some commentary of how badly we treat her (cutting down trees, dumping in the water, whatever was most prominent in their minds at the time)–and my parents weren’t particularly “green” back then (their behaviors have improved in recent years, with education on what they personally can do). Such ideas also remind me that these ‘resources’ (i.e. clean air, water, earth) are gifts, ones that won’t be offered in the future if we continue to take them for granted.

    • Thanks for your comment, Crystal. Your comment brings to mind discussion on whether we should call some of our current weather issues “natural disasters”– since many might not have occurred had we not laid the groundwork for them with our actions.
      Your reminder that what we might call “resources” would better be considered gifts is a good one.

    • I agree with calling them gifts too. We don’t really know what we have until it’s gone. We take things for granted and don’t realize from the beginning that it was a treasure to be protected and appreciated.

      • Seems like a loss that we miss out on the preciousness of such things while we have them: I think this is one reason of many why gratefulness is an essential environmental value.

  31. Wow, what a lovely article!

    I’ve had a lot of fun reading the book about the 13 grandmothers so this supplemental article was definitely nice to see. 🙂

    I wonder if they ever got their wish to speak with the Pope? I find there to be great importance for spiritual leaders from all faiths to come together to show that difference need not be treated with hostility and suspicion since there are many more things that connect us than push us apart. The 13 Grandmothers are proof that regardless of where we come from we all share something deeply in common, and that is our inseparable bond with nature, including one another.

    • I’m glad you liked this, Mac. I don’t think they ever got to see the pope- too bad, would have been quite a conversation!
      I agree that we should be looking at the things that connect us– including the natural world that sustains us all. We can’t really look at that if our worldview tells us we are over and outside it!

  32. When I hear someone use the term “water babies” it makes me feel something very powerful and comforting deep inside. I am fortunate in that I was introduced to nature very early in life; as a child, education and fun was achieved through utilizing the natural world to play, create, entertain and learn in a non-destructive way and even in pro-native natural growth activity based way. I understand water to be precious beyond its deep connection to our body’s make-up as well as the earth’s reliance on water to support every living thing as well as to assist non living things in movement and evolution. It is precious because it provides a release from life through many activities while at the same time teaching us about how to treat ourselves and others.
    Through swimming, good health and pleasure and relaxation are achieved as well as fishing for food which allows one to provide for themselves and family, all of this triggering happiness and pride. Angling or fishing while not in the water also can allow a person to catch themselves or their families’ meal and through the activity, learn to respect having the opportunity and means to do so for sustenance. And of course through consuming water we achieve and sustain hydration so our bodies meet one of the many requirements that if achieved will provide a healthy and balanced physiological system; water helps us to reach our physical healthy state which makes us feel good, which makes us happy.
    Grandma Aggie believes, practices, and teaches reciprocity in life. Natural beings harmoniously living along side of all other natural beings, and all natural beings giving and taking only what is needed for sustenance, survival in harmony not in material overload, and with values that include cooperation and equality, no one has more, and no one has less is the underlying methodology of her teachings.
    This effort to teach the ancient life lessons and methodologies must spring board the resurgence of the masses awareness and understanding of the 21st centuries deep troubles that impact all living things, regardless of who is responsible and how it happened. The ability to learn that to live freely and in a healthy state, in balance in every part of life is imperative. Explaining that it is our responsibility to care for all that is on this planet, so that it may then care for itself, which is also caring for us; is fundamental, simple and much easier to do than most recognize. Only with the right behavior modifications and a distancing from the capitalistic patriarchal methods facilitated by the world’s global economy will we reach our intended goal.
    As Grandma Aggie leads her people and now all of us in the Sacred Salmon Ceremony; she as the Ceremony Keeper takes this role very seriously, as she is passing a message from these animals to all others on earth; describing the efforts taken and actions by the female salmon that once concluded allow her to fulfill her destiny (15) Grandmothers Counsel the World.
    The female salmon sacrifices herself in the creek in which she had just spawned hours earlier; this is a benefit for all others that live in and rely on this creek. As she slowly decays while first swimming, and then being pulled and finally carried by the water downstream; 33 birds and 44 other kinds of animals that use this area may continue to rely on it for sustenance; a result of the salmon- the ultimate gift was given (15)Grandmothers Counsel the World.
    Grandma Aggie is allowing people to come into contact with the most compelling demonstration of the lesson of the thirteen grandmothers and their people and ancestors. Reciprocity; for which there are both positive and negative connotations. We cannot be what we are without every other living thing around us. All things have created one another through the cycle of life. When we damage one thing, we damage another, and ourselves. By carrying this lesson to those of us raised without these principals and methods incorporated into daily life, we can find balance once again.
    If you take what you are given, and chose to see the good within it, that will bring better good until we are all well once again.

    • Nice points about being water babies, Lizzy, both in the human and more than human realms. As you point out, just as water flows between all things, our actions flow in circles out from us. I appreciate the reminders about living downstream and the model of the salmon’s gift to other lives.

  33. I have never realized that members of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers were real grandmothers who came from all around the world. That is amazing. They come together for one holy reason; to heal the world. The goal of their work is clear; to make this world a better place for the next seven generations. Thirteen Grandmothers are great women. Grandma Aggie also rings a bell about the way human are treating water. We are taking precious water for granted. We are not taking time to think about how happy we are and how should respect water better. In the old time, people treat water much better than us. For example, in Mongolia, around the time of the Great Khan, people were not allowed to wash their cloth in the river. It was considered as an act of disrespect because water was an essential element of human body. Water was sacred.
    I really like they way Grandma Aggie links the destination of human to the destination of other species. She said that if other species aren’t in good shape, human isn’t in good shape too. It is so true. Nothing will stay the same if there is anything happens to our ecosystem. Grandma Aggie is right. To change this world, we need to do a lot. But there is one thing we got to start with. It is love.

    • Hi Vu, these grandmothers are very inspiring in their personal commitments to heal our world for the sake of all the lives that share it. Thanks for sharing the note about care for water in an ancient Mongolia as in Grandma Aggie’s perspective. I have been very privileged to know Grandma Aggie–and experience the care she feels for all of us. And I agree with you that all these grandmothers are “great” women in their “holy” task of healing our world.

  34. Vu,

    You bring up an interesting point which I encountered in another part of the reading and wondered about. Cultural beliefs about rivers and other aspects of our natural world are diverse. In Mongolia people did not use the river to wash clothes. The practices of those who live near the Ganges River are much different, however, and I wonder how we can balance a respect for these peoples’ culture with a respect for nature (the river). There are a variety of death rituals involving the Ganges River, one of which requires the dead to be cremated and placed in the river. This ritual holds very strong spiritual significance, but it is obviously not ideal for the health of the river. Do we risk losing some aspects of certain cultures by putting the needs of the earth first and if so, is it absolutely necessary to do this? It seems to be necessary if we hope to preserve the earth.

    • Hi Kelsey, see the essay here, “How to love a river” with a link to an essay by Lina Gupta — a Hindu ecofeminist who argues that degrading the Ganges is not a part of the appropriate cultural or spiritual attitude, in fact, it conflicts with traditional Hinduism.
      Thanks for bringing up a thoughtful point to consider. I hope we would not have to create a hierarchy that gives the well being of humans a precedence over the environment or vice versa– since in the end, the welfare of both are bound together.

  35. “Just call me Grandma”
    That is what comes to my mind’s eye when I think of Grandma Aggie. Every person she meets that is what she says, young or old, “Just call me Grandma”. I love her. I get tearful when I think about her. She exudes love and acceptance, and she really does see the beauty in everyone and everything. The world is a better place with Grandma Aggie in it and I think the Pope can learn a lesson or two from her. If anything his heart will be filled with love the second he meets her.
    I love you Grandma Aggie
    Wado and A’ho

    • Hi Val, I got a tear in my eye reading this. Grandma Aggie is so wholeheartedly full of love and acceptance, she is indeed the incarnation of what every “Grandma” should be– including standing powerfully against abuse of any living thing.
      Thanks for your heartful sharing!

  36. Grandma Aggie has great wisdom and it seems impossible to think she thought she would not live up to her grandfather’s role as elder. Her point of how important water’s role in everyone’s life is well taken. We cannot exist without a clean, plentiful supply of water and to think otherwise is foolish. Her hope that the thirteen international grandmothers would reverse a decision that was made in 1493 is commendable. It is remarkable that killing non-believers on newly discovered land would still be in effect. Her wise words of “walking the talk” could be applied to every aspect of life. Being true to yourself is the ultimate life goal for anyone. When I read inspirational stories such as Grandma Aggies thoughts on life I am hopeful for the future. If someone who has lived that long still holds some faith in humanity, I can too. As a natural resource major I hear many bleak, heart wrenching stories about the state of our environment and our effect on our earth community members; small doses of Grandma Aggie stories gives me hope for my children’s children.

    • Grandma Aggie’s wisdom is directly connected to her humility. She is indeed inspiring-and I have the same hopeful response as you do in encountering her joy and warmth–and her own vision for the future.
      Delightful point that if someone who has lived this long still holds out hope for humanity, those of us a few decades younger can too!
      There is much grief in what has happened to our environment: obviously your major takes some emotional courage– I am glad you take heart in “doses of Grandma Aggie”–and the many others who care as you do for the world we share–and the one that will be inherited by our children’s children.
      Thanks for your personal choice in helping to heal our shared world.

  37. Grandma Aggie describes the sadness felt by a Rogue River elder when he was tricked into signing away his rights to his land by saying his heart was sick. The devastation felt by many natives forced to leave their beloved land is also described in “Grandmothers Counsel the World”, on page 4. Schaefer describes how native people had such a connection to their land that their cultures were created around the land and plants and animals found on it. This connection was so deep “that if their connection to the land is gone, as has happened to most Native Americans, they are no longer who they were.” In another class, we’re studying race and briefly covered the Trail of Tears, which now has a deeper meaning for me. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be forced off your land, to which you had such a profound connection, only to lose your sense of self through the resulting separation, as well as assimilation into a new society. The suffering of Native Americans is something I connect with deeply, largely because of their connection with nature, something I feel as well.

    • Thank you for your compassionate response, Kelsey. There is some grieving for us to do as a nation for this past, as you express. And then we must heal that past by creating justice in the present–and learning from our grave mistakes. A great thing to remember on Martin Luther King day! Thanks for your comment.

  38. Grandma Aggies wisdom is indeed heard through this article. she is an inspiration. her connection to her environment as well as to her people and her love of the world and life are definitely traits to be learned and followed. when she talks about the rivers of the world and how Mother Earth is taking back her water because the people have not treated it well- it makes so much sense. We sometimes or many times take what we have been gifted for granted and then ruin it. it seems a great lesson for all to learn about life in general. we should appreciate what we have and what we have been gifted rather than destroy it because we think we deserve it. thanks Grandma Aggie for your wisdom and your love of life and people:)

    • Thanks for your own touching response to this grandmother and leader who inspires so many, Ely.
      You have a great point about honoring our gifts: the earth and its abundance should not be something to fight over in terms of who gets to ravage it first, but to accept with an attitude of gratitude and sharing.
      Taking the gifts of life for granted and then ruining them, as you point out, is a double tragedy in terms of disrespect for the gift in question– and for the whole of life that depends on it for survival– as we do our rivers.
      And thanks again to Grandma Aggie, indeed, for her wisdom and love!

  39. I means a lot to know that someone fights so hard to remind people that their people where here and wont let us forget that up to us to never forget. I enjoyed the subtle hints of feminist in this empowerment in this article when it talked about the mother salmon.

    • Thanks for your comment, Arnulfo. Good perspective about mother salmon– I agree it is inspiring that someone works as hard as does Grandma Aggie to protect the world that nurtures us all.

  40. Grandma Aggie is an amazing and loving woman! I think it is wonderful all that she has done to give thanks to nature and the other animals living here among us that we depend on. I think her good-kinded spirit really shows when she describes how if she were on death row she would be able to find the good in the other inmates around her; such a positive attitude and I love that!

    • Grandma Aggie is inspirational indeed. And she will soon be leading the fourth annual water blessing of the Willamette in Eugene (April 17). Watch for more info.

  41. The term “Everybody’s Grandma” sounds very fitting for Grandma Aggie! What I most love about the description of Grandma Aggie is her ability to find goodness in spite of all the bad around. Reading about someone with a negative attitude would not make me want to make the world a better place, but reading about a woman who gives her all to the world she lives in certainly makes me want to better myself and this world.

    • That’s how Grandma Aggie, is, Samantha. And I think that is how many grandparents are– it is unfortunate that so many of us are without them. Many years ago when I working with the Chehalis and asking whom I should talk to, I was told, “If someone had grandparents, they would know something”. We cannot have too much of such elder wisdom and compassion.

    • I completely agree that she very patient for those around her. She sounds like the ideal Grandma that you can talk to and get advice that will truly benefit not only you but the ripple effect of that advice will better the world altogether.

      • We all need our grandmas- I was so blessed to have a wonderful one myself, and Grandma Aggie is ready to be “everyone’s Grandma” for the many among us who had no such gift– or even those of us who know the delight in all grandparents.

  42. This article reminded me quite a bit of my grandparents and great grandparents. My grandmother and grandfather both grew up in poor rural communities, my grandmother in appalachia, my grandfather in a mining town in Illinois, both during the depression. However, they both spent a lot of time outdoors around their homes, and they passed on their appreciation for nature to me, by teaching me things about gardening and planting, teaching me about wildlife through stories, as well as taking me on hiking and canoeing trips. My great grandparents were very much the same way. Its amazing what we can learn from our elders, if we simply take the time to sit and listen.

    • Wonderful that you had such grandparents and great grandparents, John! They obviously gifted you not only with their knowledge, but a special sense of the importance of listening and learning.

  43. I really admire Grandma Aggie for all the work she is doing, even in her old age. Not only is she doing what she can to preserve the ways of her tribe, but also for her work on the Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. Also I love that she is in such good spirits and seems to be a very happy person. I love when people are happy with their lives…. its so inspiring!

    • Happiness did seem the main goal of Grandma Aggie, it did make me smile to see that even though she sees all this destruction in the world, she just wants everyone to live in happiness, although this true happiness can only be achieved when the whole is working in harmony.

    • Grandma Aggie is an inspiration indeed, Michelle, for all these ways and more! What a joy and privilege it is for us to have her in this world with us.

  44. It really touched me to see a woman have such a passion for others, even when they are part of destroying the wonderful earth she strives to protect. I really think the key Grandma Aggie uses to reach those who are stubborn is her compassion. I have much respect for her because throughout her years of seeing our world being destroyed, she still finds the positive and good in people, when she could easily have grown to hate those who are destructive. Just reading the essay made me want to give her a hug for being patient with the people who resided in the world. She has many good points of what environmentally is occurring in our world and if we would stop and think what our actions have caused on our planet we can slowly bring back the life it once had.

    • It is wonderful that Grandma Aggie’s love for the world (including, of course, all of us) can spread through her presence– just knowing of her work and the amazing things she has done through persistence and compassion should motivate all of us.
      For instance, the last dam just came off the Rogue River–and she had worked for years in supporting the process of dam removal throughout the Rogue.
      I can hardly imagine how much more impoverished a world we might have without Grandma Aggie in it.

  45. It is also good to hear about how a much of a connection a person can have to her environment. She reminds me about how it is hard to fight for good water. She seems to have a really connection to her past and still have a very good idea about sharing her views with others around the world. Her story is very inspiring.

  46. Grandma Aggie’s spirit is a testament to the hope that the council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers is trying to bring to the world. There is one statement in particular that she made that really hit home for me (and, indeed, should for the rest of the world as well): “If the polar bears and the elephants and the tigers aren’t in good shape, than we’re not in very good shape either.” People forget that at one time, humans lived in harmony with the animals. Our ancestors cared for the Earth, and all the creatures contained therein. By being custodians for the animals with which we share the world, we are showing our respect and love for Mother Earth. Unfortunately, those who founded the United States, for example, took a passage from the Bible that said we are to have dominion over the Earth and all creatures therein (paraphrasing there), and used it literally to rape the Earth and subdue her creatures. If one read the passage another way, it could be taken to meant that we are the custodians and must take care of the Earth and her creatures.

    It was heartbreaking to read about the Takelma people being ousted from their lands, only to then be ousted from the lands they were sent to – the lands they adopted as their home. I think it says volumes about the greed and disrespect of the white man against the indigenous peoples.

    • Thank you for your compassionate response here, Kimberlee–and the reminder that we are still part of the community of life that includes more than human animals. If their breath, habitat, and food are in crisis, ours cannot be far behind.
      This history is one that bespeaks the need for justice and learning–and Grandma Aggie does not speak of the injustice of the past; she would simply like to see a better world. I have seen her tear up at the mention of those who are working to make things better: just as she has strengthened so many hearts, hers is strengthened by those who work on behalf of what she is fond of calling, “the voice of the voiceless.”

    • I also found Grandma Aggie’s saying about if animals are not doing well we are not doing well almost common sense, but something that a lot of people don’t see. Nature is a balance; if a species is not doing well in nature the problem is often bigger than the wellbeing of that one species. We now seem so far disconnected from nature. In the past we maybe didn’t see ourselves as equals to animals, but I do think that we use to have more respect for them and work together with them more than trying to dominate them. It appears to me that the first European settlers had little respect for Native American’s just as many of us do for animals today. They tried to dominate them instead of working together with them.

      • Good point about balance– interdependence is another value I like to remember. After all, we share the same air, land and water, and our health depends on the same things the health of more than human animals also depend on. The history of domination and its results certainly points the way to a necessity for change.

  47. I have heard an old proverb that goes, “If you teach a man, you teach a person. If you teach a woman, you teach the world.” Perhaps it is fitting that a council of Grandmothers have assembled to teach the world a different path of healing that starts with intention. Lord knows we need it. How do you heal the world? You go to the source; water. It is in each of us and sustains every living thing on Earth as surely as sunlight does. Reflecting on the work of Masaru Emoto who studied the effect of emotion on water molecules, this shift in consciousness that Grandma Aggie is talking about has the ability to realign the chaotic back into it’s intended form; beauty. Intention. Water. Love. It is amazing how much power is accessible to us to transform ourselves an the world if we stop trying to control and manipulate it.

    Thanks Grandma Aggie. It is a good day, isn’t it?

    • Thanks for you lovely comment, Justin. I love your last line here! We are very fortunate to have women like Grandma Aggie modeling such care for human and more than human life.

    • What a beautiful comment, Justin. I love the proverb you quoted. When Oprah Winfrey opened up her Leadership Academy in South Africa, she supported the notion of having an all-girl school by saying, “When you educate one girl, she takes what she learns to her community.” Dr. Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, observed that for males, conversation is the way status within a group is negotiated. In essence, it is used to preserve independence. On the other hand, women use conversation to negotiate intimacy. So, yes, it is fitting that these thirteen women have come together to bring the world a very important message.

  48. I liked how Grandma Aggie didn’t focus on all of the wrong doings that happened in history but looked at the good in everyone around. It’s important to remember and understand what happened in the past, but I don’t think that it’s always good to dwell in it; Grandma Aggie looks more toward the future and gathering people together to respect the land and animals that she loves. She is very up lifting, taking the most out of each day.
    I’m also shocked to hear about the Vatican edict that supports the killing of “non-believers” on lands discovered by Europeans. Has this been taken back by the Pope? I don’t know how this could possibly be supported.

    • This edict is centuries old (dates back to colonial times) and one of Grandma Aggie’s arguments in getting the Pope (or attempting to get him) to rescind it is that HE did not create it–and though it is not enforced, it is an insult to indigenous peoples that it remains at all.
      Your point about the past brings to mind a distinction I like to make between leveling blame (not very useful unless it stops damage in an emergency situation) and responsibility: I would hope our lessons from the past would teach us the latter.

    • I also found her joy and optimism incredibly powerful! I think that one of the things that makes many activists less impactful, or at least less approachable, is that they are so passionate about the issue that they stop caring about the people. Grandma Aggie focused on sharing her passion in a way that encouraged and supported others to make positive changes in their lives, and look toward a better (greener) future. I try to incorporate that kindness and compassion into my activism and strive to be at least half as effective as Grandma Aggie!

  49. I watched a documentary recently titled “Everything’s Cool,” filmed in 2007 about global warming. It highlighted Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus who wrote an essay called “The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post Environmental World.” They say that environmentalism is about telling people how bad things are and asking them to make sacrifices. Instead they want to tell people about all the good things that will happen when they make positive changes in the way our earth is treated. Grandma Aggie accomplishes this by first acknowledging her sorrow about the destruction of the earth and then offering hope. There has to be hope or people won’t listen. People want to know their actions are not futile. Grandma Aggie’s delight in the earth and faith in humanity are inspiring, and right now inspiration is exactly what we need.

    • I agree that we should not give people excuses for apathy as if their actions meant nothing. In fact, I think that we honor ourselves by acting on our values.
      There is great wisdom in the fact that, as you say, Grandma Aggie both acknowledges the sadness in the environmental losses we face and the delight in the living world (and our sharing with one another). Certainly such a world full of delight will inspire and motivate us to do better, even as it encourages us to take our place in it!

  50. Grandma Aggie is an amazing woman. She is out there hands on trying to make a difference for our world. She is out there traveling, speaking, teaching, and sharing insights that are right on the mark. I agree with the idea that Mother Earth is withdrawing her water. We abuse it and when winters are snowless like this year and last, we see the decline in natural water sources. My dad used to say, the day people start charging money for water is the day we won’t have it. One of the most impressive things about Grandma Aggie is the “soulful commitments” she engages in. I often times think my life is wasting away not doing anything of real, long lasting, value to give back to my world. She causes me to ask myself what I can do each day to make a difference in the world in which I live, even if it is just turning the water off while I brush my teeth. Grandma Aggie is actually doing SOMETHING about it. It seems impossible to stop the ongoing destruction of the water sources. Just in recreational activities alone we pollute so much water. For example, boats, jet-skis, etc. create pollution. That’s not to mention the oil spills, sewage in the rivers, and on and on. It seems mathematically impossible to stop the pollution now that it is so large scale. I remember being in Prineville Reservoir out with my sister and brother-in-law on their boat last summer. We went to the marina gas station to fill up. The gas attendant overfilled the tank and the excess gas just ran into the lake. My brother-in-law threw a fit about it, but just think about how often that probably happens.

    • Given Grandma Aggie’s age and her former bout with cancer and recent surgery, she is obviously going strong on heart and mind–and inspiring others all around the world as she does so.
      I very much like this idea of “soulful commitment” as well. Not only helps to nurture our world but gives us an expanded sense of our own lives as well when we find such a path and commit to it. Your examples show how much we have left to do–and Grandma Aggie, we might recall, is responsible for spearheading the removal of several dams on the Rogue River, as well as for the revival of the salmon runs in her home country.
      My sense is that each of us has a place in this life, something we are meant to do that no one else can do in our stead– and thus we all count even as we are each irreplaceable in the small and large decisions we make.

  51. Everybody’s Gramma is the case here! Gramma Aggie has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Her soft words and welcoming hugs are there for all. I have had the honor of learning life lessons from her, she has always been kind and I have always felt her desire to see into my soul; she has a way to bring a smile to your face on the sadest of days.

    Gramma Aggie blessing the Willamette River is a vision I can easily grasp when I close my eyes. She spreads her rich values across all generations, just as another student pointed out above, through her hands on work.

    I hope one day the pope will find time to meet with Gramma Aggie or any of the other 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, their wisdom is something he could learn from. I also hope that one day through the many messages being spread around the globe about global warming and all the terrible things humans are doing to this great earth, we one at a time will stand and make a change in our lives to better the future for our children.

    • Thank you for the vivid and touching response that makes Grandma Aggie present to all of us here, Danielle. What a blessing it must have been to have grown up with her– just as it is a blessing for all of us who know her and all the living earth she has worked to care for.

  52. This article touched my heart in so many ways! I have always had a special place in my heart for water. In the introduction for our WS 450 class, we discussed experiences in nature that have touched our lives. Most of my fondest memories occurred in or near water. I also respect how important water is to our lives – as Grandma Aggie said, we are all water babies. The complex, and fragile, riparian ecosystems are often damaged by human carelessness. The rate of extinction of endangered species (high numbers of marine animals due to ocean acidification that results from Climate Change) is heartbreaking. Even other human beings are being harmed by our lack of attention; the number of people without access to potable water is stunning. I believe that if there were more ceremonies like this one, maybe we would be able to recognize our interconnectedness and work to create more responsible and respectful relationships with the natural world.

    I also loved that this article was about Grandma Aggie. I was first introduced to her in the documentary “For the Next 7 Generations”. I loved it (especially the Grandmother’s experiences with the Dalai Lama, with whom I believe they share much common ground, including their staggering humility). I was later lucky to meet her when I took a class on Native American Activism. She was all of the best things about environmentalists and grandmothers.

    • Thanks for your warm response here, Anna. I am glad you had a chance to experience in Grandma Aggie’s presence “all the best things about environmentalists and grandmothers”. That is a winning combination!
      Thanks for sharing your care for water here as well: it heartens me that there are many of us on the same path– we will need us all to meet the challenges ahead.

  53. What an incredible woman! I really enjoyed reading about Grandma Aggie, although her grandfather’s story makes me really sad. I admire her spirit of forgiveness, as well as the way she seems to give hope for the future. Our society often encourages people to blame others when we make a mistake, rather than accepting responsibility for our own actions. It would be nice to see that change. From what I’ve read, it sounds like Grandma Aggie inspires people to make a difference in the world, even if they don’t think that their small actions matter. Like the vial of water poured in a river, many people doing small things can create a river if they all work towards the same goal.

    Both of my parents died at relatively young ages (Mom at 51 and Dad at 56). I remember Mom dreaming of visiting Australia for years prior to her cancer diagnosis. She wanted to go there so badly that it was constantly on her mind, but my father didn’t want to take the time away from work, nor did he want to spend the money on such a trip. He had, after all, seen the world during his time in the Navy, and I guess he never realized how badly he hurt Mom by not supporting her dream. When Mom was diagnosed with cancer, everything came to an end, and Mom never did get to see Australia. Since then, I’ve been a lot more of a “live for today” kind of person, just as Grandma Aggie seems to advocate.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane lives we lead, but we have to remember that there is a bigger world out there. We just need to take the time to see it, and we also need to take the time to realize that our planet is truly a beautiful world. If we don’t recognize that beauty, we won’t learn how to protect it, and that would be a tragedy.

    • Thanks for your comment, Roxanne. I like your analogy about the vial of water poured into the river and the actions of each us going into the larger of effects.
      I am sorry to hear that you have lost both your Mom and Dad. It sounds like your Mom’s life has left you with some gifts with respect to the way you wish to live your life.
      Your point that we must honor the life we are given daily– and the beautiful and precious earth from which we draw that life– is an important one.

  54. The line that really spoke to me from this essay was that “water hears us when we than it for cleaning us and quenching our thirst.” I try to not take things for granted. I don’t waste much water, I have been to rituals for healing waterways, and have participated in circles where “waters of the world” were shared. I lived in Texas for 14 years, I understand what a precious resource it is. I try to remember to give thanks to the Earth when I eat, at least at dinner- but I have never really thought about thanking water! How funny, that even with all this awareness I think I have, it never occurred to me to take a moment and give thanks on a regular basis to this life-giving, life-sustaining gift! I recently read in a magazine the quote “every time you turn on the faucet, use it as a reminder to ‘go with the flow'”- which I thought was a nice idea- but Grandma Aggie’s reminder to give thanks speaks to me on a deeper level. And I give thanks for that…

    • Thanks for sharing this thoughtful response here, Jen. I think that we might all be more conscious of this precious resource–and gratitude for the water we use might make us more so.

    • It is a very unique concept to me as well, being grateful to water. Especially living in Oregon, where water seems to be in abundance ALL the time because of all the rain, I don’t necessarily think to be thankful for it. But I am. I haven’t been to Texas, so I can’t directly relate to that, but I have traveled to places where fresh running water was not always available, and easily becomes one of the first things I long for when it’s not right at my fingertips. Apart from that, it’s nice to have something to be thankful for that we use and need everyday without exception.

      • Nice point about being grateful for something we use everyday–and there have been summer droughts in the Willamette Valley– in the 1980s, we had a limited water use regime, since it got so bad. The rain falls in Oregon mostly when things are not in their full growth stage. And even if water were ample, treating our rivers with the respect to keep them clean is important.

  55. This was a really interesting read! I was very excited to see that it was about Grandma Aggie, a representative of the group of women we will be reading about in our textbook, “Grandmothers Counsel the World.” My attention was immediately caught when you mention her humility, and how it benefited her as a leader. It’s nice to read about someone not being entirely sure about herself in a position of leadership right off the bat (that she felt she couldn’t compare to the work her ancestors had done) but then eventually knew she was up for the task. That was encouraging for me, especially since I don’t necessarily consider myself a person of authority yet currently hold a position as such over a dozen students at my place of work. I enjoyed reading about the ceremony and the thought and passion that goes into being grateful and aware to the natural world, water specifically, but I was more touched by the personality, or at least what I can guess as such, of Grandma Aggie and her leadership role. Im excited to read more about her and the others.

    • Thank your for your thoughtful response, Joce. There is ample reason to be touched by Grandma Aggie’s personality–you have an important perception about the connection between her effective leadership and her humility– and what this models for the rest of us.

  56. This article inspired me to do a little research on the grandmothers. I appreciate how a majority of them have risen from difficult situations (sometimes with family nay-saying their actions, or in the case of Tsering Dolma Gyaltong escaping on foot from brutal communist takeover in China) to being the voice and advocate for Earth. I feel like their title shouldn’t be grandmothers, but Grand Mothers.

    I love viewing Earth as a mother and as one who can withdraw her offerings if she is not respected. I have special places that I go to thank Earth. These places help me view the power of Earth and even though I’ve been witness to the magnificence of the settings numerous times, they can still take my breath away, and fill me with a range of emotions from peace to adrenaline, and always fill me with awe.

    I would love to be present for one of the Sacred Salmon Ceremonies, and reading about the life cycle of the female salmon has been eye-opening. I will certainly be more appreciative of the salmon that I consume when considering the noble struggle they face in life.

    • I like your idea of calling these wise and inspiring women Grand Mothers, Rebecca!
      Thanks for sharing your connection to your sacred places with us; it also seems to me that we find the most power in natural arenas when we are not dominant over them, but part of them– and here is where awe and wonder derive.
      Lovely response with respect to honoring the salmon. I don’t know what your background is, but Grandma Aggie likes to keep the salmon ceremonies for those of native heritage. On the other hand, she often does river blessing ceremonies that are open to all.

  57. This article touched my heart in so many ways! I have always had a special place in my heart for water. In the introduction for our WS 450 class, we discussed experiences in nature that have touched our lives. Most of my fondest memories occurred in or near water. I also respect how important water is to our lives – as Grandma Aggie said, we are all water babies. The complex, and fragile, riparian ecosystems are often damaged by human carelessness. The rate of extinction of endangered species (high numbers of marine animals due to ocean acidification that results from Climate Change) is heartbreaking. Even other human beings are being harmed by our lack of attention; the number of people without access to potable water is stunning. I believe that if there were more ceremonies like this one, maybe we would be able to recognize our interconnectedness and work to create more responsible and respectful relationships with the natural world.

    I also loved that this article was about Grandma Aggie. I was first introduced to her in the documentary “For the Next 7 Generations”. I loved it (especially the Grandmother’s experiences with the Dalai Lama, with whom I believe they share much common ground, including their staggering humility). I was later lucky to meet her when I took a class on Native American Activism. She was all of the best things about environmentalists and grandmothers.

    • Thanks for your warm response here, Anna. I am glad you had a chance to experience in Grandma Aggie’s presence “all the best things about environmentalists and grandmothers”. That is a winning combination!
      Thanks for sharing your care for water here as well: it heartens me that there are many of us on the same path– we will need us all to meet the challenges ahead.

  58. Overall, this article was a very interesting read. What I found interesting is how a group of people can be effected by a move from one environment to another, especially when the move is forced. There is a reason why the Rogue River Tribe decided to live on the Rogue River instead of the Siletz and it was because the people survived better there, knew the land, and they were intimate with it. If the death rate increased for one tribe when the government forced them to relocate so that white man could settle on the land, I wonder how many losses the other Indian tribes faced. I wonder how I would react if the government forced me to move from one environment into another. As humans, we become so dependent on our envrionment we live in that being forced to move would hinder the way we adapt to our new environment.
    After reading Grandma Aggie’s insights, one thing that came to mind was my own grandma. A grandma’s wisdow is worth a million words! One thing that I find so true is her thoughts about living in general: “You should live each day as if you were to die tomorrow.” Most of the time seems to be about rushing to get things done and today’s environment is so filled with technology. It’s easy to forget to live each day as if we were to not see another day.

    • Your point about the consequences of moving people around emotionally moved me. I had a Polish Jewish neighbor who moved from Poland to England and then the United States because of the Nazis. She lost her mother, four sisters, her place of worship, her community, and her country. This caused her pain for the rest of her life.

      I also thought of the forced removal of Africans so that they could be used as slaves. Think of the pain that the slaves. felt. They never saw their relatives, friends, and fellow community members again. They never learned what happened to the people left behind. Think of the pain that the people who were left behind felt. They never knew where the slave was and what happened to the slave.

      • Sorry to hear about what happened to your neighbor. It was inhumane for the Nazis to do what they did to the Jews and to anyone who went against them during the Holocaust/WWII.

        • Indeed, we have much healing work to do at home and on a global level.

        • Indeed. I am Polish and my ancestors came from Poland just shortly after WWII. Every time I hear a joke about a Polish individual or about Hitler, I get upset because of how many of my ancestors most likely suffered from hatred during WWII. I just don’t understand how an individual or group can ignore their human rights and make privilege for them selves out of someone else’s suffering.

        • “Making privilege for oneself out of someone else’s suffering” is indeed something humans need most to change. We also need to encourage values and social structure that does not allow privilege of the kinds indicated by the growing divisions between rich and poor in the US today.

      • Such sad stories continue in things like the recent removal of Mexicans from their family farms near our border to allow corporate strawberry farms (growing for import to the US) to take their place.
        Additionally sad when one considers that how much place-based indigenous peoples have to offer us in terms of environmental knowledge. I find the UN Resolution on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a step in the right direction on this score (see https://holdenma.wordpress.com/culture-and-environment/indigenous-peoples/ on this site).

        • Dr. Holden,

          Thank you for this comment. Incidents such as these are why I value buying local and organic food as much as possible. While I am aware this is not a lifestyle choice possible for every person, it is one small way to help support local farmers and decrease the governments reasons/excuses for taking other peoples land.

        • Indeed, Odessa: I am heartened by the increase in urban gardens (such as the Grass Roots Garden here in Eugene dedicated to feeding the hungry) and CSA shares that make good food more available to all.

      • Thank you for this post. Your insightful comment gave me a perspective on a part of the article that I didn’t make any particular connection with after reading it the first time. I am sorry for your neighbor. The story gave me a much needed reminder of other situations in which indigenous people have been forced out of their homes and the hardships that it causes them to endure. This sadly happens too often in our world.

        • That is too often so, Aakash: tragic that those without a sense of home force those with a sense of home thousands of years old from their lands and livelihoods.

    • Mary, I can’t imagine what it would do to me to be forced to move by a government or any other institution. Reading what it did to the Rogue River Tribe makes me so sad.

      I have to say, Grandma Aggie sounds like such an angel! A tough angel with a great sense of humor and a powerful sense of herself. I would love to have her influence in my life!

      • Grandma Aggie as a “tough angel”– very nice image. She is also a generous woman who readily spreads her influence to others–in the service of caring for justice with respect to all lives, human and more than human.

      • Yes Cheryl, Grandma Aggie sure is a true angel! She illustrates the many qualities of what every woman should follow by being a leader, being inspirational , and well as being out spoken about what she held dear to her. I really love stories like these!

    • Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. As you observe, many native peoples suffered greatly from relocation policies.
      Grandmothers’ visdoms of all sorts are indeed gifts! How fortunate you were to be close to your own grandmas.

    • Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your post. I too believe that our grandmothers have a wealth of wisdom that can not be replaced. Most of my life skills and values came from my grandmother and great-grandmother, I would not be the same person without these experiences.

      As for your comment about being relocated, I cannot imagine the emotional damage this would do to a community, a family.

  59. This article put a smile on my face and has me looking forward to reading “Grandmothers Counsel the World”. This article helped me to reevaluate my natural reaction to the horrors that have been done to people such as the Rogue River. Of course I should be both astounded and upset. However, Grandma Aggie shows how this anger does no good. That happiness is the real gift in life and has the power to change the world. The river is not garbage sign she requested made me happy, it was honest and to the point. When I look at the rivers that is exactly what I see, how is this okay? Why do we do this to our planet?

    The sacred Salmon ceremony sounds amazing and is something I wish I could experience. The Salmon have always represented great sacrifice for the whole community. They are an animal that I always strongly associated with the mother, and what it means to be a mother. There is so much sacrifice of the body, everyday life and for some their whole life. This, however, is always worth it, whether it’s because you love your own child so much, you believe it is what God or any other creator wanted for you or because it fills you with such strength. It is an experience that can never be matched.

    Thank you for posting this article and experience.

    • You are quite welcome, Odessa. This comparison with the sacrifice of the mother in the salmon community is one that Grandma Aggie speaks a good deal about.
      Grandma Aggie is particularly generous in dealing with the history of wrongs done to her people. Her lack of anger in this regard, however, does not mean she does not work for justice in this regard. Thus her visit to the Pope to try to get him to rescind the edict from a few centuries back that divided up the world between Christians– no matter who lived there. Or her standing beside young people taken up by the non-Indian court system, explaining her people’s worldview to the court in order to open dialogue as well as care for the young among her people.
      She is a pretty feisty woman who speaks her mind!

  60. Thank you very much for sharing this personal story with us! I always think it is very interesting to learn about local tribes and the various oppressions and types of discrimination they faced from government. My father fishes the Siletz and I thought this article hit home with me because I could create an image in my mind from your illustrations. There is a model Indian in the Coyote Rock RV park where each person who hopes to catch a fish should pray to before going out on the boat. I know that the tribes of Siletz have various gatherings throughout the year and I have always wanted to go. Maybe I will need to have a first hand expierence after this class! Thanks for this article.

  61. Grandma Aggie is an inspiring person. Her wisdom and passion for the environment are evident in this text. An aspect of her personality that I envy and would like to emulate is finding the good in everybody. This is highlighted by her example of being able to find the good of the prisoners on death row. I feel this is a characteristic that if everyone had would really make the world a better place. I also found the way she spoke of the earth as having a personality was interesting. Her statement on the earth taking back her water because the people have not treated it well sounds like something my grandpa would say. This is a woman that wants to make the world a better place and actively tries to do so. Grandma Aggie’s positive attitude and effort make a difference and we can learn a lesson from her dedication.

    • Hi Aakash, thanks for your comment. Good point that we bring out the best in others by seeing the good in them, just as seeing the “personality” of the earth brings out responsible actions toward the natural world.

  62. It was interesting to read the part about the Rogue River elder, Whiskus. The government stated that he signed an agreement to vacate his land and relocate to Siletz, but Whiskus claimed he had not understood the agreement. I found that interesting, because I had recently learned of similar claims about land treaties from other Native Americans, during an Anthropology class on Native North Americans. I learned that the Native Americans misunderstood the issue of land rights, because granting someone ‘land rights’ to them meant allowing someone to use/access the land (not to have/own it). Therefore, when they signed the land treaties, they were shocked to learn that they had just signed away ownership of the land. That said, perhaps it is not the Native Americans who misunderstood, but it was the early European settlers who misunderstood the agreement by assuming that they giving away ownership.

    • You have raised an important historical issue that continues to be important today, Leah– in terms of justice for native peoples and in terms of our care for the land. Does ownership today (in terms of the latter) confer the right to pollute water and use up soil fertility that might arguably be said to be parts of a living commons– or does it confer responsibility along with “ownership”- the ownership of belonging to a circle of life that includes future generations rather than the type that states “we can do anything we want within our property lines”?
      We are understanding more and more of the interdependence of all natural lives (including our own)– natural life does not stop at our property lines and so putting “weed and feed” on our lawn, for instance, pollutes water resources in a vast area beyond the private lawn. Natural interdependence, in turn, was well understood in native traditions, whose values allowed them to make ecologically sound choices here for thousands of years.

    • Good point Leah, and I would guess the Europeans already knew the misunderstanding that would arise as they gained the signatures. There were countless writings of the ‘sharing’ of Native Americans and how trusting they were with their material goods. I was able to read some of the letters and documents in a previous Anthropology course. To me, land rights are exactly that, the right to ‘use’ the land. It would say land ownership if lands were to change hands. Of course it is easy to go back into time with all the knowledge of more than 100 years of hindsight and change.

      • Good point about land “rights”, Ruth. You might be interested to know that certain officials who made treaties with native peoples actually wrote in government documents that the treaties would only hold in the short term– until the US population became militarily stronger and they would no longer need them to subdue native populations.
        As for history and hindsight: let us hope that the lessons learned here can be applied to the integrity of our relations with others in the future.

    • You have a great point Leah. I was thinking about this paragraph too when I was reading. It’s really hard to pinpoint exactly who should be to blame for the misunderstanding. In my experience, I think this is common with a lot of cultures. Everyone has different beliefs and ideals of how the world should work. Because of this, there will always be misunderstandings. If one party does not understand certain things about the culture of the other, things will definitely get lost in communication. This is why it is important to research other cultures before you visit them so that you do not offend them in any way. The Native North Americans believed in an attitude where everything is shared with the people of the land, while the European settlers believed in complete ownership. Both sides, it seems, interpreted the agreements as they wanted.

      • Thoughtful balance here4, Ruth. Whereas misunderstandings can certainly be the result of unconsciousness ignorance, there is sadly a bit more to the colonial side of things– see my response to Ruth Doe in this respect.
        Those with a dominating worldview (and intent to take over the land of others) are not above using the values of others for their own purposes. These two different worldviews predisposed viewing the “other” in different ways. As Jacob Bighorn (past administrator of Chemawa Indian School put it, with one view, will look at a stranger and think, “How can we get along”, whereas the other will look at the stranger and size him or her up according to how to defeat him. It is in this context that the Hudson’s Bay Company journals often recorded native populations according to “fighting strength” when those populations were in fact economically supported the company with their labor.
        That said, it was certainly difficult for pioneers to understand so different a view of land from their own– so a few early pioneers readily took to this counter idea held by their native neighbors. This brings me to one of the most important ways to honor the “other”– and that is, to understand we have something to learn from them.
        And to follow up on Bighorn’s statement, he did not assign any blame to this: he just saw non-native cultures as using different parts of their brains than did native people.

  63. One of the things I will take away from this is the absolute positivity that Grandma Aggie is filled with. She is working around the world, dealing with very dramatic and heart wrenching life/earth stories and yet she remains hopeful and as she said, happy. This is the positive energy needed to make change. Her comment regarding us all being “water babies” and that the “water hears us” made me think of some thoughts I had years ago regarding the power of water and how it is the ultimate source of life. I started to think of the world-wide creation stories and the Christian stories and how God/Creator is related as the giver of life and started to think about how no life on earth would exist without water and that water is the giver of life. It is unique and hard to find anywhere other than earth, so far. I started to think of water as God. It is magical and has unique properties unlike anything else. Wherever the waters are not loved and cared for, death and disease soon follow. We are made mostly of water and as a developing baby in the womb we are surrounded by the water. I began to not even be able to wrap my mind around the fact that we are not all in constant protection mode of all of our water sources. It is the only reason for life.

    • Grandma Aggie’s positivity is indeed striking. You are certainly right that this is a powerful way to exert leadership as an elder– and to effect change no matter what our ages.
      Thoughtful perspective on the sacredness of water: seems a rational assignment of status to that which sustains life– and as you noted, it should govern our own respectful relationship to this gift– in protecting our water resources from human harm.

    • You posed very interesting thoughts on water! In a recent science class I learned that Americans use the majority of water on earth and that each person in America uses on average 300,000 gallons of water a year. Whereas less developed countries use about 6,000 per capita. This reinforces your statement about protecting our water sources. Especially since most of that water is not drinkable (ocean) and the largest portion that is, is frozen (glaciers). Just to add onto the awe of water’s power, it is also the cause of some of the most dangerous natural disasters. So yes, I completely agree that water has an incredible amount of power over us as well as sustaining us in our daily lives.

      • Thanks for your additional thoughts on the power of water, its importance in our lives– and the responsible choices we might make concerning it (beginning with the clear assessment of how much water we use and why– some of that is due, for instance, to the type of food we eat, which needs so much water to be raised, as well as to our technology– manufacturing the things we purchase takes a good deal of water.)
        There is a “water footprint” assessment you can take on one of the sites on our links page– an eye opener!

      • Jamie I like how you went away from the sad story of Grandma Aggie and took a look at the water aspect of things. Since we are composed of something like 97% water, it does play a huge part in our lives. If the earth continues to melt the the glaciers melt and soon some places could be in gulfed in water and that would cause a disaster amongst its self. Its just amazing how much water we consume and dump out when certain countries can barely have enough water to survive.

        • The melting of the glaciers, further, won’t help the fresh water shortage (too much of the world is experiencing drought), since they are melting into the sea and causing rising sea levels.
          It is indeed important to look at our water consumption– thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  64. I may not believe in everything the Grandma Aggie does, but I really like what she is trying to do. She is trying to make people more aware of the declining numbers of the salmon as well as trying to reduce the amount of pollution that is put into our waters. She is trying to make people more appreciative of our environment, showing us that we need to take care of it. I think the following line is important. “If the polar bears and the elephants and the tigers aren’t in good shape, than we’re not in very good shape either”. She’s trying to explain to us that if we do not change our destructive ways, we will be slowly killing our planet, and because of this, us with it. Everything in nature is connected in some way. With pollution, global warming, wars going on around the world, we are continuing to dig ourselves into a hole that may become too deep to climb out of. If we keep overfishing and keep throwing refuse into lakes and streams, we are slowly depleting all the natural resources we have available to us on Earth.

    • I agree with your statement regarding the connection between everything in nature. That connection is exemplified in this essay with the indigenous Rogue River people. Many of them experienced a ‘depression of spirits’ when they had to evacuate their land (some even died from the depression). I believe this is somewhat similar to what happens to couples, when their partner dies. It is not uncommon to have one person die and then (shortly after) their spouse dies too. USA Today published a study last year, stating that the risk of having a heart attack increases dramatically after losing a loved one (causing people to die from heartbreak). That said, I think the indigenous peoples connection with the land caused similar feelings of heartbreak and depression, when they had to leave it.

    • I can’t disagree with you, Ruth. Time to wake up–and we need the inspiration of Grandma Aggie and anyone else who aids that process.

  65. This story was very sad for me, and also made me realized that this probably has happened to many other tribes and not just to the Rouge River Tribe. The fact that people wanted their land and took advantage of people who have been there for years makes me sick. Its like today if the government took my family’s farm, said they were relocating us and gave us uninhabitable land to live and farm on. I really like the part of this essay where Grandma Aggie says that she finds goodness in everything and lives as if she were to die tomorrow. Absolutely inspiring, and maybe something to think about each day.

    • Hi Molly, there is a sad history here– one which I hope we can learn from. I am sorry that this happened to your family.
      Grandma Aggie is inspiring indeed! Great reminder about making finding something good in each person an everyday goal!

  66. What a beautiful spirit Grandma Aggie has through all of this! It would be so encouraging to know more people with that outlook on life. I love how there is a ceremony for the salmon that struggle to make the journey upriver and ultimately are nourishment for so many other animals. Instead of being hostile towards the other animals, it is a celebration for the salmon. Such a positive way of looking at things! And yes, although it was a very sad story about her people, it just shows that she is even more amazing for being able to take the good out of all of it. I found this to be a very uplifting story and especially love the idea of being a counsel of happiness in dreary times. Hopefully I can be reminded of this on days when I am not as positive as I should be. What an inspiring woman!

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and caring response here, Jamie. Yes, Grandma Aggie is a person of powerful spirit–and thus inspiring to us all.
      You have a great point that her resilient and positive spirit in the face of her people’s history speaks all the more strongly to the power of her tradition. Indeed, the resilience of native cultures in general says something about the power of those cultures: I wonder how most industrial societies would fare under the same pressures.

    • What I find really interesting is how positive she is. Through all she’s been through and she still can laugh and joke around really shows how strong of a person she is. She believes in her purpose and stands by it and wants to strive to make it. The problem is that many people see this and think oh well its not me so who cares. It’s just the world we live in today, but those of us who can see what this women has done and is still trying to do can only help improve how we live are lives.

      • Thoughtful comment, I am not sure how Grandma Aggie’s approach gives people the sense that they are not the ones responsible. I see it as precisely the opposite.
        That is my concern about the implications of your own comment below? Have I misunderstood you?

  67. I feel that Grandma Aggie is trying to do all she can to help mother earth survive, but however i think her efforts are falling short. A lot of her talk describes Indian tribes and for a lot of people they seem to not really pay much attention to their way of life, me included. However, i know that they rely very heavily on water and the same, but i feel Grandma Aggie is preaching to the wrong choir. We are doing a whole lot better pollution wise compared to places like Brazil and in South America where they just throw there trash where ever and it then gets into the water supply and causes big problems. I appreciate what shes trying to do, however, i think she’s going to fall just a little short.

    • Hi Jason, thanks for your comment.
      I am not sure I understand you. Are you saying that other nations are more responsible for global pollution than the US is? How would you respond to the fact that although the US has only five per cent of the world’s population, we use up 25 per cent of its resources annually and we produce the largest carbon emissions of any nation in the world (though China is fast catching up with us and India coming behind). I would love to see a Willamette River without garbage on its shores, but so far I haven’t. I just took a walk on Amazon Creek in my Eugene neighborhood (yesterday) and saw several masses of unsightly garbage thrown under the bridge there. We do have clean up days in which folks pick up our beaches and rivers, etc., but we certainly can’t say we don’t have the garbage issue: more problematic is the garbage we don’t see, as in chemicals dumped into rivers. Part of Portland’s river shore has been declared a Superfund Site because of its high level of chemical pollution. And US (and multi-national) corporations are often responsible for dumping toxic wastes in other countries that we don’t want in our own.
      Grandma Aggie is part of an international group of women who want to remind us that we are all in this together–and on the bottom line, we must begin with ourselves first to make a change, since that is where we are the most power.
      I am concerned that pointing the finger at others may be used as an excuse to keep us from cleaning up our own act– making us thing that the problem is all about “others” “over there” rather than changing our own behavior.

    • I would like to bring up two sayings that I feel relate to your comment. ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ and ‘Clean you own home before you turn your nose up at your neighbor’s house’. Allow me to explain. For the first the countries that you are describing are still developing nations with less financial capital than the US has. In this country there is the ability to put much more of our money into preserving the enviroment. We like to talk about clean energy using wind and solar power, but there could be more spent on refining these techniques instead of using it to buy gasoline. Secondly our environemtnal policies are not fool proof and perfect yet. We do not have the right to tell other countries how they need to take care of their natural environments because we cannot take care of our own. On top of this, most of these developing countries are practicing better environmental care than the US was at similar stages of development, we are just now a “more developed” nation and so currently we might be slightly cleaner, but other nations are taking far less time to create environmental legislation that the US originally did.

      • Great responses, Rachel. Very important points on both counts. And we might also point out, along with your great power/great responsibility statement, that the US uses 25 per cent of the world’s resources even though we are 4 per cent of its population. Think how much we might accomplish for the environment if we scaled out own resource use back to a comparable (and fair) 4 per cent–and what this might model for developing nations.

  68. I enjoyed the joyfulness of Grandma Aggie’s spirit. We can live a bleak world that can bring many down, she reminds us that there is good in everything. She gives a lesson in happiness that can be applied in many ways, not just in honoring the water. If we could each just take a piece of her joy and spread it, think of all the things we could accomplish.

    • Lovely perception about Grandma Aggie’s joy! A joyful relationship to our world and honor for the joyful gift of our lives incites our passion to care for that world. Indeed, as you note, “think of the things we could accomplish” with this stance.

    • To a certain extent I really try to live this, in my own personal way. I try to always be smiling, no matter how I feel inside. At work especially I make a point of being bouncy, and smiley, and laughing as much as possible. In my opinion if you can turn one person’s day around by being joyful and happy than you have been successful in that day. This is by no means an easy task, and there are plenty of days that I struggle with it. However, I have found that it works on me too. When I am having a bad day, and I stop my negative self talk and start focusing on being happy, by the end of the day I really am happy.

      • Congratulations on setting up and following through on the goal of establishing happiness for yourself and the world around us, Aryn.
        I think we cannot avoid some grief in the face of the issues that confront us with respect to the environment today. But the stance you describe may help give us the hope and spirit to change this.
        You might be interested to know about a recent study in which college students were exposed to a bad job interview situations. That experience negatively influenced their immune system not when it happened, but as they were asked to dwell on it.

    • I agree with you completely Melissa. The world would be a better place if everyone could learn to spread a little joy and be less greedy. Even smiling at someone you don’t know can make their day. A little effort can go a long ways.

  69. This element of reciprocity with Mother Earth seems to be a concept that is lost in our consumption based society. Grandma Aggie seems to be a champion for this and a champion to change the mindset the our patriarchical society has nurtured for far too long. The idea that the Earth’s precious resources are not for mankind’s exclusive consumption is one that is not proliferated enough. The harder question is how do we teach this around the world? While all education starts at home, it seems there is a greater effort that must occur at a societal level.

    • The consumer society and a reciprocal relationship with the earth are indeed contradictory, Sarah. I like your calling Grandma Aggie a “champion”– it is a term I had not thought of, but it fits!
      We can certainly begin to teach a changing mindset here, Sarah. Since we are 4 per cent of the world’s population and consume 25 per cent of its natural resources, there is much for us to do!

    • I agree, I despise that fact that many people don’t think about the other creatures that consume and live in the water that they throw trash in, live in the soil that they stomp and litter on, or even breathe the same air that they emit fumes and toxins into. It is something that makes a person lose faith in the good of humanity.

      • Or perhaps it says much about conditioning? There are those in other cultures who don’t do such things– as least the norm of their society encourages them not to, and over time, such cultures survived by respecting their environments.

        • That is true. I had a narrow view when I was thinking of this, focusing only on the U.S., but yes you’re right there are many cultures where they worship nature and others who are one with nature. Many cultures in Africa and Oceania only take from nature what they require to survive.

        • And in fact, perhaps “worship” nature is not quite the right word if we are trying to apply our own sense of “worship”. Perhaps we might say they have reverence for the natural world– as we also consider that many such cultures see no separation between humans and nature.
          Thanks for the follow up comment here.

  70. I truly believe that a smile is contagious. A laugh can always make the hardest days seem better and bring joy at a time that may not be. We have so much to be happy about, I always try to think about all the things that I have versus dwelling on the things that I dont, which I believe is where most of Americans go wrong. We live in this world where we only want more and that the earth is ours. Well Wrong! The earth is not ours, we are only one species that live on this earth. We take land from the natives and resources from the animals. We are doing more to hurt our planet then we are to thank it for all the wonderful things it provides for us. I admire Grandma Aggie because devoting your life to this cause is a big accomplishment. As of now this problem of overconsumption will not be fixed any time soon as long as peoples mindsets stay the same. I personally love animals and all living things. I see it as beautiful diversity rather then as having to share this space with other species. As humans we tend to think that the world revolves around us, and I wish I was as strong as Grandma Aggie to try to show people that it does not.

    • Good perspective on what we might be doing–as opposed to what we (most of our contemporary society) are doing with respect to our environment today. Overconsumption is a large problem indeed– which leads to social as well as environmental injustice. It is wonderful that feel this sense of affection for the living world: we would have a diminished world indeed if all its diversity were to vanish at our hands. Grandmm Aggie is exceptional in her devotion to change– I think one thing she inspires is the idea that each of us in our own way has something to offer– if only we decide to offer it!

  71. This whole thing is just brilliant I think, Grandma Aggie sounds like a very wise and incredible woman, I would very much like to meet her someday. There was one thing though that I read that really stuck with me. I think that what Grandma Aggie said about the animals and how we need to take care of them is one of the huge things that is wrong with our world. “If the polar bears and the elephants and the tigers aren’t in good shape, than we’re not in very good shape either”. I know that it has been a recurring theme throughout our history, the abuse of animals. Whether it was whaling back in the day (actually it is even still happening today), poaching on protected lands, or just regular old animal abuse, it is always happening somewhere. It makes me sick and I really feel that Grandma Aggie’s words are true. Animals, in a way, are our kin. We share this earth with them and they have just as much claim to it as we do, so why do we treat them so terribly? Animals only kill what they need to survive or if they feel threatened by something (mainly people) encroaching on their land. It is indecent of humans to take what they want just because they feel they are entitled, in fact there is a perfect example of humans taking what they want just because they “can” right here in Grandma Aggie’s history. Her people’s land was taken from them by people who thought they were better and smarter and more entitled. They took the land because they wanted it and the native people’s couldn’t do anything to stop it. No one deserves to have their home taken from them, it is not a good feeling, especially when someone takes it out of spite.

    • Grandma Aggie is a brilliant woman indeed– and you may well meet her someday in her travels–she has come to events in Corvallis and Eugene fairly regularly– though she has been slowing these visits in the last two years.
      Animals are indeed our kin, as you state– as you indicate, we have much to learn from them in the way they keep their place in the natural world (and do not overconsume, for instance). Why we treat them so poorly is something all of us might well ponder– but I think those who do are careless or self-serving– at least in the short run, since we should take to heart Grandma Aggie’s words about the “good shape” we are either in or not in together in this interdependent world.
      As you point out, a society whose values allow its members to declare some as “lesser” to oppress them is liable to oppress both some humans and other species as well.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  72. Grandma Aggie keeping her traditions up really struck me. So much of the world is completely dependent on technology that we forget how wonderful and special nature is. Simple things like Grandma Aggie thanking the cloud people for holding off the rain to allow a nice day for everyone to gather is so rare in today. People will complain that it is raining because they get wet but they are not thankful when it is sunny. All they say is that ‘at least there is no rain today’. Our lives today are so caught up in the mechanics of our complicated world we forget the circle of life and its importance to our very ability to continue living ourselves. Without rain we could not survive much like the “thirty-three kinds of birds and forty-four kinds of animals” could not survive without the fish swimming upriver. So few people have a hands-on experience with the earth and their food that we forget just how important every part of our environment is to survival. I feel that supermarkets are a big part of this. Food now comes clean and shiny from an equally shiny and clean supermarket with the bustle of modern life that there is little concept that everything was originally dirty and grown with considerable amounts of time and effort. If we fail to recognize the significance of our food and where it comes from then the human race is doomed to continue on in its destruction of the environment. However if we can hear Grandma Aggie’s call back to our roots in nature, even if it is a small herb garden in a kitchen window sill, we stand a much better chance of stabilizing the natural world we live in.

    • Thoughtful points here, Rachel–thanks for reminding us that we need the rain even if it inconveniences us in the lives that, as you point out, are separated from the “circle of life”– the circle of life which sustains us all in interdependence.
      You have a solid point that we are modern lives separate us from the sources of our survival– all of which come from the natural world. I am heartened by the growing kitchen and other urban gardens that bring us back to the connection with the natural world. Certainly, we need to know the sources of our survival in order to make wise choices about our actions as individuals and as a society.

    • Rachel, there is one of our relations that we are losing by the millions every year. Our brother, the honeybee. Without his dedicated and prolific desire to pollinate and make honey, we and our Mother the Earth will die. Technology has created a black plague for the honeybee in the form of Neo-Nicotinoids, a pesticide that is absorbed into the plant, flower, and pollen of every plant it is used on or near. The bees cannot fight the devastating effect of the chemical and colony collapse disorder follows. These agro-chemical companies, Bayer, Ortho, etc, need to take responsibility for their destruction of the bee population, and in turn us. I hope that the 13 Grandmothers can convince these corporations to withdraw their chemical warfare from the market and allow brother bee to thrive, and keep our mother the Earth alive.

  73. Humans have become fairly selfish creatures; forgetting that we use to live in harmony with other animals. Though when we did live in harmony, we cared for not only the well being of other animals but of the earth as well. Now, it is heartbreaking to read/hear about things such as the Takelma people. It is not fair that they were ousted from their lands (both their original land and the land they were sent to). How would you feel if some greedy person took away your home? Not great I’m guessing, so why is it okay to take the Takelma people’s land from them. That was their home.

    • And this was an indigenous home in more ways than property ownership: it was home in the sense of reverence and care for that which gave them life. Now Grandma Aggie is asking not for her people’s land back–nor for any retribution for wrongs of the past– but that we who live here now care for this land that is so precious to her and her community.

  74. Grandma Aggie seems like a wonderful human and the world is better for her just being in it, let alone the work she is doing to heal what humans (e.g. white settlers) have damaged.

    Whenever I hear about how the colonists and explorers treated the indigenous populations of America I wish for time travel technology to go back and explain in very clear terms why their actions are abhorrent and debasing. Groups like the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers give me hope that some of those wrongs can be lessened if not corrected.

    • I am glad that you find hope here, Caroline. So do I–and I think each of us can add to this through the daily choices we make. Thanks for your comment.

    • Caroline, I agree with you. I wish I had a time machine for that specific purpose, but also I would take back other technology with me to show them what would be wrought if they continued on the path they chose. I have hope as long as non-indigenous young and old take the time to learn the truth, to question the status quo, to rage against the machine and to learn that there is no “me” in community. I take heart that you are enlightened, as are the others who are taking this class, and that there are professors such as Dr. Holden, Dr. Vogt in Philosophy, and others in other disciplines, that are interested in indigenous ecological knowledge, and other ways of “knowing” in an effort to educate, enlighten, and promulgate change from within the being of the student, which in turn will go a long way toward the salvation of Mother Earth.

      • Thank you for your kind and generous words, Lloydene. Let us hope we find a way to replace the “me” in the “me generation” with the “we” that includes all of us in the family of life in order to care for that life and pass on a vital future to the lives that follow and depend on us.

  75. Grandma Aggie, is truly an inspiration. I met her in 2008 at OSU when I was in one of Dr. Peter’s classes. She smiled at me and asked me which Nation I was from? It took me aback for a minute, because when people see me, that I am Native is not their first or even remotest impression. But Grandma Aggie knew. I said Osage/Cherokee/Choctaw and asked her how she knew, “I can see it in your eyes.” I met her a few more times in the next couple of years after that then, I moved to Burns and lost touch with everyone. This is a place of isolation, and I am being called back to the West side of the Cascades specifically to the Rogue Valley area. I remember a talk she gave and she looked at several of us with that smile of hers and said some of you are destined for greatness, to be the elders of tomorrow, some of you are elders now, but your journey has not yet completed its course, and some of you are the teachers, and she looked at directly at me and said, “you just haven’t found your students yet!” I know she meant that for me, and I hope that she and I cross paths again, and that I am where she knew that I am supposed to be, and I hope that I honor her, and all the grandmothers and elders when I finally find my students and make my journey down the path that Grandma Aggie showed me I was destined to travel.

    • Thank you for this touching and powerful addition to the living portrait of Grandma Aggie and her legacy.
      I am reminded of something Jacob Bighorn (administrator of Chemawa Indian School in the 1980s) said about education in native communities– that it was based on one generation’s supporting another to find their particular path/purpose in life. Once others do that for you, you may do it for the next generation in turn as you find your own students. Congratulations on knowing where you belong and following that path.

  76. Grandma Aggie’s go to of finding the best in people and having good days is inspiring. Her mentality shows the difference that attitude makes in a person’s output. I think that an unconditionally positive outlook denies one the right to run away from their emotions toward a path of excess consuption and destruction. It also keeps one from assigning blame to others, as the focus is to constantly heal and rebuild relationships. Relationships in need of healing are numerous and may be human-human relationships or human-nature/nature-human relationships. With this in mind, it is pragmatic not to dwell in the disrepair of a relationship but to repair with enthusiasm and integrity.

    • Great point about the positive attitude that goes hand in hand with facing difficult facts– a “path of excess consumption and destruction” is a poor substitute indeed for healing relationships and personal satisfaction with our lives.

  77. I spent a year living on the banks of the Rogue River in a small river cabin a few years back. I am familiar with the wonders of the Rogue—it is a magnificent body of water that creates a sense of urgency as you listen to it rushing down its hurried path. I was unfamiliar with the Siletz history especially in regards to the deaths of so many natives until after reading this piece. This saddens me but it is an unfortunate part of history that is reflected in many lands all over this country and others. Our lands are stained with the blood of Native Americans. Most were forced onto reservations, killed, or died from different diseases. They were forced to register their blood lines and to conform as much as possible to white standards. Their opinions and voices on the ecosystems they cherished were ignored by the American Government. Their sustainable ways of life were taken out of the ecosystems they managed. As the Grandmother’s Council the World text illustrates, by learning from tribal systems and history, we have a much better chance at understanding and enacting sustainable behaviors. Grandma Aggie’s happiness and positive spirit reflect her mission and the underlying importance that LOVE has for her quest. She is such an important spirit with a wonderful mission.

    • Hi Lara,
      Thanks for your comment. I can only imagine that living in your Rogue River cabin must have given you experiences to treasure.
      Indeed, Grandmother Aggie and all the grandmothers know how to love this world (and model that for all of us) in their actions.
      This history is sad, but I am heartened by the removal of local dams with a good deal of support for Grandma Aggie–and the re-enstatement of the traditional salmon ceremony led by Grandma Aggie.

  78. I was struck in reading this piece by the line about Grandma Aggie waking each day with “soulful commitments.” This, along with the L-word, makes me want to hear more about how I can walk in her footsteps, or continue to make strides toward the paths in line with that envisioned by Grandma Aggie and the Council. I think it is becoming clear what we should be seeing on a national or global scale that would indicate we are beginning to change our minds, attitudes, and actions toward the earth and how we interact with it. What I would like more direction on is what does that mean for me, as an individual in this society right now? Is it enough to be conscious of my place in the world? Is it more important to make conscious decisions about how I interact with the world? Do I lead by example or do I need to fight the fight, as it were, and draw attention to the changes that need to happen in order to get humanity back on a path of survival for the earth? As I write, I think the answer is becoming clear for me. We each need to start where we are comfortable, and when we are able, we need to teach our children what it means to respect the earth and all of its “things.” I hope there are people strong enough and informed, like Grandma Aggie, that can go further and create a change at a greater scale.

    • The issues that you wrestle with in terms of personal choices are essential ones, indeed, Micki. As a teacher, you have a special opportunity to model alternatives and to raise the consciousness of the younger generation about the changes we need.
      I do think you have a good point about starting where we are– there is certainly much to do, but a both-and approach seems a good one whenever we can institute it. For instance, it seems to me that you students would think less of your teaching if you did not express the values you share with them in your personal life.
      And yes, we do need as many elders/leaders of this caliber as we can get. Perhaps you are even preparing both your biological children and those you teach to step into such a role some day in the future.

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