with Mea Woodruff of Spirit Weavers
Mea Woodruff founded Spirit Weavers Gathering to remind women of “the simple pleasures of a life lived in balance and harmony with nature.” Now, seven years later, women from around the globe gather on her family’s Cedar Bloom Farm in Southern Oregon to learn how to farm, weave baskets, create ceremony, alchemize plant medicine, and more. More than a retreat getaway, though, Mea believes this is an opportunity for women to honor the land and the ancestors that have given us all so much.
Indigenous people are our wisdom keepers. With more awareness, giving time, space and uplifting the voices and stories of our Indigenous communities we can begin to remember what it means to live in harmony with the world, which I believe is crucial for our survival and thriving as a species.
One of those indigenous ancestors dearest to Mea’s heart is known affectionately as Grandma Aggie. Grandma Aggie is the eldest member of both her original people, the Takelma People, and of the chairperson of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, which protects and promotes indigenous rights, medicines, and ancient wisdom. Grandma Aggie is the oldest of the Grandmothers and This month, in celebration and reverence of her wisdom, Mea will host Grandma Aggie’s 95th birthday at Cedar Bloom Farm. The epic celebration will include traditional storytelling, dancing, drumming, and a live performance by Native American singer Mariee Sioux.
We talked to Mea about Grandmother Agnes and the importance of indigenous wisdom in the modern age.
Tell us about Grandmother Agnes. Who is she, how did you meet, and what impact has she had on your life personally?
Agnes Baker Pilgrim is the oldest living member of her tribe, the Takelma People. Grandmother Agnes has been honored as a treasure of her people. She brought back the traditional Salmon Ceremony, along with other traditions that were on the way to being forgotten. She is the oldest Grandmother of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers at almost 95 years old! She has been an outspoken “voice for the voiceless”, speaking out for animals, trees, the water, and all beings.
I met Grandma last year at her 94th Birthday Celebration. Having recently moved to the Illinois Valley, I connected with artist Lindy Kehoe, who has been organizing Grandma's Birthday parties for the last several years. I had been asking her about Grandma and her presence here in the valley, and this year she invited us to host her Birthday here at Cedar Bloom – her people's original land in the Illinois Valley. It is a huge honor for us to be able to host the celebration of such a strong and important woman in the world.
We Grandmothers come from far and wide to speak the knowledge we hold inside… We are all speaking to an unseen world, speaking for our Mother Earth, trying to stop our spiritual blindness. We speak for the animal kingdom for those in the waters, for the four-leggeds and the one-leggeds (trees) ... and the creepy crawlers. I pray our Creator hears us. The creatures have a right to be.
This event really celebrates the indigenous community of the area surrounding Cedar Bloom Farm and we know this is a conservation effort you are passionate about. Can you tell us more about your relationship with the indigenous community in Southern Oregon?
The first thing we looked into when we purchased the land here was who the original people of the land were. It was important for us to honor and connect to the first nations people of the land, as we ourselves are settlers on this land. After learning more about the Takelma people of the Illinois Valley, we learned shortly after that Grandma was just 40 mins from us, so we reached out to her right away. The Thirteen Indiginous Grandmothers are some of the most important women on the planet so we had been following their work for many years prior.
With the building of any relationship, and especially with Indigenous people whose land and way of life has been colonized by white people, it takes time, trust, and a conscious effort to build mutual and sustainable relationship. We intend to continue to humbly and gratefully show up in reciprocity and respect to build our relationship with Grandmother, her family, and all of the indigenous people of our community.
In June we got to spend more time together as Grandma and her daughter Nadine came to the Opening Ceremony of Spirit Weavers Gathering and offered a land blessing, as well as shared stories and talks about the Takelma people of this area. Knowing that one of the most inspiring Indigenous Elders is here in our valley continuing to teach and share stories is a huge blessing for the community. For her birthday celebration we will welcome members of her tribe and family from all over the states. Her people will share drumming and dancing throughout the day for Grandma. It feels important that this land, Cedar Bloom is available to our Indigenous community to fish from, harvest medicines from and remain available for a place to come and receive as their Ancestors once walked this land long before we did.
I feel if first nations people were honored and asked permission more for events happening on their original territories we could begin to build richer and lasting relationships within communities. It should be protocol and it’s up to us as organizers to build and nurture these small – but important – action steps.
How do you think the world would benefit from more celebration of indigenous cultures?
Understanding the history and culture of the territories we live on is foundational to building respectful and reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities. Indigenous bodies hold vital story and knowledge, a history of resistance against colonial settler institutions. We must honor the truth of the Indigenous story. Indigenous people are our wisdom keepers. With more awareness, giving time, space and uplifting the voices and stories of our Indigenous communities we can begin to remember what it means to live in harmony with the world, which I believe is crucial for our survival and thriving as a species.
share with us your favorite Grandma Aggie story:
Since our relationship is still blossoming, I feel it's important to also share a story from Lindy Kehoe who has been close to grandma over the last decade:
“My favorite story with Grandma Aggie was witnessing her take her seat on the “Story Chair”, a very important rock on the Rogue River, in-between falls. The Story Chair is the legendary Rock which is very important to Grandma’s Ancestors and the Salmon Ceremony. The last person to sit on this Rock was her Father, Chief George Baker, in 1933. Grandma was rowed to the Story Chair by Olympian Rowers. She wore full regalia, and despite a hip that needed replacing, she braved the elements and uneven ground.
My husband and I watched on the shore, weeping, as she raised an Eagle Feather to the sky, praying and talking to the Heavens. At 87, Grandma taught many of us the power of prayer, commitment, healing, and courage. I am forever grateful to stand there that day in 2012, as she touched feathers with her Ancestors.”