On October 7, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution to “Declare the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in the City of Portland.” Portland now joins a growing number of cities including Berkeley, California, Seattle, Minneapolis/St. Paul and recently, Lawrence, Kansas and Oklahoma City.
Mayor Charlie Hales’ office released a statement supporting the resolution noting that, “Portland is home to the ninth-largest Native American population in the United States, and its urban Native community is descended from more than 200 tribes. The history of indigenous communities in Portland is woven into the fabric of the City.”
Dante James, the director of the Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights, was quoted by the Mayor’s office saying, “This is a symbol and a promise—a promise not to forget what the symbol means.”
Klamath/Leech Lake Ojibway actor Dyami Thomas gave testimony to the city council, “Growing up I was never taught the real truth in school. We were taught to praise Columbus for his discovery. It’s time for all people to learn the actual truth about what really happened.
Something so brutal should never be disguised as heroic.”
Thomas explained to Indian Country Today Media Network, “This generation gets to grow up knowing the truth. I was lucky, when I went to NAYA (Native American Youth and Family Center) College Academy they had a lot of Native teachers who actually talked about Columbus—straight talk. They recognized everyone was fooled from the beginning and they just brought that to the table. Today was pretty awesome; it was such a blessing to see everyone come out and actually support the mayor, the commissioners.”
Portland State University sophomore, Idallis Riggs, Navajo and originally from Tonalea, Arizona recalled for the city council the pain that Columbus Day reinforces and reminded them of the suffering indigenous people endured at his hands. Ironically, researching Columbus made her realize even more so how valuable it is that she practice her traditions and language and pass them onto the next generation.
“A lot of indigenous people were killed [by Columbus],” Riggs said. “For us to keep up our traditions would be like giving a gift back to those people who lost their lives when he came to these shores.”
She has had to confront ignorance in the classroom at PSU regarding Native Americans. Portland, despite its liberal reputation internationally, is one of the least diverse cities in America.
The resolution represented the collaborative work of many local Native American leaders including NAYA, the largest urban Native organization in Portland and the Grand Ronde Tribe.
Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno reminded the Portland City Council that his tribe signed the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855, which ceded all of the land that the city now occupies. “Our relation with Portland is not just with the city, but to the ground. Our connection to Portland is with the land. You can pour a lot of concrete, pour a lot of blacktop and lay down a lot of gravel, but it does not change for us that when we come here we are walking in the footsteps of our ancestors… This is a very historic and moving day. This is a first step forward and we just need to keep going in a positive direction.”
Se-ah-dom Edmo, commissioner for Portland’s Human Rights Commission (Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce, Yakama) told Indian Country Today Media Network, “Treaties with Tribes are the legal foundation of this country—they give legal permission for the United States to exist on this land, and I am proud to serve a City that is taking steps to honor those fundamental legal commitments.”
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler