Takelma elder Agnes Baker-Pilgrim of Grants Pass sat on the Dalai Lama's interfaith panel and gave the opening prayer for his three-day visit to Oregon last week.
"I gave the opening prayers for the first event, and as we discussed the Earth, I told them, 'We are all in this leaky canoe together,' " said Baker-Pilgrim, the oldest living female of the Takelma Band of Southern Oregon and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz.
"That drew a lot of laughter and applause," she said. "I told them that 'Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is our gift.' "
The three days of sold-out events surrounding the Dalai Lama's visit brought together tens of thousands to hear messages of tolerance, love and commitment to protecting the Earth from pollution, greed and war.
Baker-Pilgrim sat on a panel Thursday with the Dalai Lama, called "An Interfaith Event: Spirituality and the Environment" and held at the University of Portland's Chiles Center. The panel also included the Rev. E. William Beauchamp, UP president; Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana of the Congregation Beth Israel; and Imam Muhammad Najieb of the Muslim Community Center of Portland.
Baker-Pilgrim, who holds a Salmon Ceremony on the Rogue River each year, said clean water and air must be established as a priority worldwide.
"We are all water babies," she said. "We came to this world in water. Laughter may be your cheapest medicine, but your best and first medicine is water. Guard it with your life. Without it, we can't live."
Baker-Pilgrim said she agreed with the Dalai Lama's concern for Mother Earth and how all people should be more responsible for their surroundings.
"Adults do need to keep this world together, because it is really owned by the children," she said. "We must protect the air and water now so they can grow up to be gray-headed like me.
"We must protect the Earth, so that when we cross over, we will have left it better than we found it. We as a human race should join together and do a better job to stop all this pollution, and really prove to our Earth Mother how sacred she is."
Baker-Pilgrim had visited with the Dalai Lama years ago in Dharamsala, India, as the chairperson of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, which includes the Dalai Lama's sister. He laughingly noted in their first meeting that "I would be a grandfather, too, if I wasn't a lama," Baker-Pilgrim said.
The trip was documented in the movie "For the Next Seven Generations," which shows Baker-Pilgrim presenting the Dalai Lama with a gift of a condor feather that "had all our prayers that his life's intentions would be fulfilled, and the Tibetan people could go home."
"Honestly, this time in Portland, when I met him, I gave him a kiss on the cheek, and wished I could have given him a hug or hold him awhile and give him motherly love," Baker-Pilgrim said. "It's amazing to sit with such a little man who is so spiritually huge, with such a huge mission in the world."
Baker-Pilgrim urged compassion for the Tibetans, comparing their plight under Chinese rule to what American Indians went through when they were forced to live on reservations.
The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, said there are 400 million Buddhists in China who have an interest in Tibetan Buddhism, and that many come up to him tearfully pleading "please don't forget us." He said things are changing in China, and that the Chinese population has the right to know the truth and to have no censorship of the truth in Tibet.
He stated in a press conference, "With no proper legal protections, the Chinese legal system needs to be uplifted to world standards, then there could be a better future."
Baker-Pilgrim said she felt as if she had known the Dalai Lama her whole life. "He is such a holy, sacred being, such a man of truth," she said. "He is also such an example of how men should behave, and how they should think, with right attitudes of compassion for everyone. He's like a mirror of how mankind should be, how to walk your talk."
Baker-Pilgrim agreed with the Dalai Lama when he said that it is "healthy to once a day, 'Just shut it all down,' to take the time for your prayers or meditations."
"Creator gave us life as our first gift, then He gave us a brain," she said. "But shut it down once a day and get into your heart. Your heart bypasses all faults in others. I also told them to travel the eighteen inches from your head to your heart."
Reach freelance writer Jane Ayers at firstname.lastname@example.org.