THE LAND THAT HOLDS US – PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
For thousands of years, the Takelma people lived in the Illinois and Rogue River valleys, what is now known as Josephine County. They lived in small bands close to the land. Interior southwest Oregon has pronounced seasons and the ancient Takelma adapted to these seasons by spending spring, summer and early fall months collecting and storing food for the winter season.
Salmon was central to their food source and way of life. The salmon diet was supplemented by game, such as deer, elk, beaver, bear, antelope and bighorn sheep. Smaller mammals, such as squirrels, rabbits and gophers, might have been snared by both men and women. They gathered the root of the Camas plant, part of the asparagus family, as well as acorns from the two native species of Oaks, the Oregon white oak and California black oak. Other vegetation included manzanita berries, pine nuts, tarweed seeds, wild plums and sunflowers. The Takelma are also known to have cultivated a native tobacco plant, but otherwise relied on the fruits of the wilderness for their survival. The main utensils included horn, bone and wood-made implements and a great variety of baskets constructed generally by twining on a hazel warp. Stone was used in the making of arrowheads and pestles. The clothing and personal adornment of the Takelma was similar to the tribes of northern California. Notable characteristics include facial painting, red-headed woodpecker scalps for men and basket caps for women. The women also tattooed the skin in three stripes and men tattooed the left arm.
European Settlement of the Illinois Valley began by the 1830’s, as the gold and logging industries developed. By the end of 1856, the traditional residents of the Rogue and Illinois River valleys were forcibly removed and relocated to the Siletz Reservation on the central Oregon coast. The Takelma were joined on the reservations by their neighbors, the Athapaskans and the Shasta, as well as tribes from even farther away, such as the Coos and Tillamook. It is reported that by 1906 less than ten Takelma were alive and able to speak their native language.
In 1994, for the first time in over 140 years, an ancient ceremony took place to welcome home and give thanks for the returning salmon, on the Kanaka Flats of the Applegate River. People of all heritages were welcomed at the annual Salmon Gathering on the Applegate River until 2006. In 2007, the ceremony was moved to the place where it was held for thousands of years: the Tilomikh (Powerhouse Falls), on the Rogue River near Gold Hill, Oregon. Since then, the ceremony has taken place annually in its traditional location, demonstrating that the Takelma culture is alive and will continue into the future.
Today, Takelma descendents continue to reside on or near the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations. The Pilgrims brought back the Salmon Ceremony to Southern Oregon. Due to the Pilgrim’s contribution in returning the Salmon Ceremony to Jackson County, Agnis Baker-Pilgrim is known to some locals as the ‘Keeper of the Sacred Salmon Ceremony. Agnes, one of the oldest grandmothers of the International Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, has returned to the Rogue Valley and today her voice can be heard strong and clear, proving that the spirit and blood of her people are still with us.
We feel honored to be stewards of this land. One of our main visions for this land is to protect its cultural and environmental heritage. We are excited to share about the native food forest we will be cultivating for the local community and beyond. We will also be placing the land into a conservation trust so no logging or future development can occur. For the many years to come, we will explore the ways can live in harmony with the natural world for the greater good of people and the plants and animals we depend on.