Grandma Agnes Pilgrim: A Voice for the Voiceless

By Chip Richards

Honoured as a “Living Treasure” by her tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and as a “Living Cultural Legend” by the Oregon Council of the Arts, Grandma Agnes Pilgrim (or “Grandma Aggie” as she is affectionately known) is an Ambassador for Mother Earth who has touched the lives of people from many lands, helping us remember sacred ways of living that we came here to share as people of the Earth.
The following is an excerpt from a recent sharing Grandma Aggie had with the UPLIFT team.

My name is Taowhywee. I am a spiritual elder of my tribe. I’m the oldest living female left of the Rogue River Indians who lived in Southern Oregon for over 20,000 years. I’m very proud of my tribal people because we were terminated for 39 years. It was a scary place not knowing. Not belonging to a tribe... But then we were restored and it has been such a beautiful time. Every November 18 we come together for restoration pow wow to be proud of who we are as a people.

A long time ago I was woken up in the dreamtime and a voice said,

“Be a voice for the voiceless.”

And I thought, “Oh my God. What does that mean?” And it would come again. And it would come again. It took a long time for me to understand what it meant to be a voice for the voiceless.

I was sitting one day out in nature and suddenly I thought,

“Ah… the air doesn’t have a voice. The water doesn’t have a voice.

The animal kingdom doesn’t have a voice. The green of our Mother Earth doesn’t have a voice.

The Grandfather Fire doesn’t have a voice… Who would be a voice for the voiceless?”

With that message, I began to tour the world, being a voice for the voiceless. Teaching people who pray to pray for all of these things that give us life: the water, the air, the green of our Mother Earth. To remind us that,

We were all water babies.

The voice said, “You were born in water and even before you came out you followed a big ball of water. Water is your first medicine.” 75% of our body is water. So we’ve got to wake up and cherish this water, starting with the H2O in our own body. Without it, we die. All life dies.

For many, many years I have served on tribal committees always fighting for cultural and traditional improvements. My children and I are all traditional First Nation natives and we “walk our talk”. I asked my Creator to let me live because my family needs me and I’ve got a lot to do. I said if you let me live I’ll keep busy the rest of my life. And I’m certainly doing that!

Here I am, nearly 90 years old, still being this voice for the voiceless. But it gets kind of scary because now we’ve got a hole in the o-zone layer. We’ve got smog in our cities. We’ve got pollution in our oceans and rivers and streams. What are we doing to this Earth that was given to us so freely? Why aren’t we all being a voice for the voiceless? Why aren’t we all reverent to this little spot that we take up every day on our Earth Mother? Are each of us doing that?

Be a voice for the voiceless.

Be a voice. Join me, being that voice. Help us keep our planet together. Help us to stop pollution from going into our rivers and streams and oceans. The polar bear is slowly going away. Swims out to an ice ball looking for his food. Gets back on, goes to another one. Keeps going until he drowns. It’s a sad story. So be a voice.

The Bengal tiger is in danger. I get calls for the elephants. “Grandma pray for the elephants and the giraffes. Their food is disappearing.” I am called to pray for wolves, for salmon, and for the Ganges River in India. I went to Australia to pray for the Murray Darling River and its pollutions. I prayed for the Condors and now they are coming back after being gone for over 200 years from Oregon.

Be a voice. Be a voice. Help our planet. Help where you can. Teach our children. If we are going to turn this world around, it’s the little people who are going to do it. Teach the children in the schools. You are the wisdom keeper in your family. You have a story, every one of you. Teach the children.

I am very conscious of what’s happening on our globe. Weather patterns and monsoons and all these destructions because we’re not grateful. We don’t thank the water for our life force. I don’t think we do that, so I teach people to thank the water every day of your life. The river; the lake near your house; the glass of water you’re holding in your hand.

Thank the water for giving us life.

Each of us can do something for our planet. Whatever it is. Start simple just taking care of the garbage that leaves your house, the water when they clean your carpets. Where does that go? There are a lot of things we can watch out for.

We need not for one moment to limit ourselves about what we can do. We must give support and encouragement to each other and to whomever we meet on our path.

Love people unconditionally and add their voices and prayers to ours.

Together we can make a difference.

Grandma Agnes Pilgrim will be sharing her wisdom live at the 2014 UPLIFT festival in Byron Bay Australia, December 11-14. For ticket information and to watch the global webcast, visit

Story by Chip Richards the Creative Director of UPLIFT.

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This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 23: Global Indigenous Wisdom