(Ashland, Ore.) — Agnes Baker “Grandma Aggie” Pilgrim, who has been recognized as a “living treasure” by the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz, received the Southern Oregon University President’s Medal in a presentation at SOU’s Thalden Pavilion.
Grandma Aggie, who is 95, is the most senior elder of southern Oregon’s Takelma Tribe and has led a varied life. Her early careers included singer, nightclub bouncer, jail barber and logger, but she embraced a more spiritual path in the 1970s. She worked as a manager and social worker with the United Indian Lodge in Crescent City, California, and joined the Cultural Heritage and Sacred Lands Committee of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz.
She then enrolled at SOU – which was then Southern Oregon State College – and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in Native American studies in 1985, at age 61. She is a co-founder of SOU’s Konoway Nika Tillicum Native American Youth Academy – an eight-day residential program for Native American middle school and high school students – and received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2002.
Grandma Aggie has continued to be engaged with the university, returning last year to bless and help dedicate SOU’s new Student Recreation Center.
The SOU President’s Medal, established in 1984, is the university’s highest tribute and is awarded annually to a community member who is distinguished by her or his actions and contributions. The award was presented posthumously last year to Steve Nelson, who served almost 20 years as a volunteer leader of SOU’s Jefferson Public Radio and the JPR Foundation.
The presentation ceremony for Grandma Aggie was at SOU’s Thalden Pavilion, which features 28-foot-tall cedar “teaching poles” carved by Native American sculptor Russell Beebe. The pavilion is one of 13 homes around the globe of the World Peace Flame.
Grandma Aggie was a co-founder in 2004 of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, an alliance of female elders who promote protection of the earth and awareness of Native culture. She brought the Salmon Ceremony back to the Rogue Valley in 1994, after the Takelma tradition had been suppressed for more than 120 years.