The Native American Community in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Report

2014 CCC Profiles - Native American Report.jpg
2014 CCC Profiles - Native American Report.jpg

The Native American Community in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Report

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Today, the Native American community in Multnomah county1 exists as a testament to resilience and resistance. We are a community that has endured much hardship, and we are determined to build a positive future for all our members.

We are the 9th largest urban Indian population in the USA. We are home to 28 Native organizations in the Portland area, run by and staffed with Native people, whose combined resources represent over 50 million dollars in revenue that go to local taxes, businesses and services.2 The legacy of pride and resilience has resulted in the development of a powerful core of advocates in the region. This grit and determination has, ultimately, led to the emergence of a robust and vital Native American presence in Multnomah county.

We appeal to the broader community to recognize and commit to solutions that are built in partnership with the Native American community, and to enact commitments that recognize that prosperity and well being for all in Multnomah county depends on the prosperity and well being of the Native American community.

We continue to recover from the legacy of colonization, and the practices of various governments that have alternated in approaches to public policy. A brief walk through history reveals the substance of our oppression. Genocidal policies existed in numerous ways: bounties were placed on our lives in several eastern US states (early 18th through 19th centuries), and California’s governor advocated our extermination in 1851.3 Our lands were taken through outright breaches of treaty laws, as the US has broken over 500 treaties with our peoples – a number unmatched with any other array of nations.4 Denial of our citizenship occurred until 1924, but many states, Oregon included, denied our voting rights until the federal government stepped in with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Our faith traditions were outlawed until 1993, and our children were forcibly removed from our care and placed in residential schools, stripping our youth of culture and community.

More than 60 of our Tribes in Oregon were terminated by the federal government in 1953. Termination meant revoking tribal sovereignty and government responsibilities to Native peoples, as well as claims to reservation land and unique identity.5 While done under the guise of the then-liberal notion of assimilation, the policy also meant our protected resources were taken from us, with millions of acres of land removed from our stewardship. Thousands of our Native women (and some men) were forcibly sterilized or coerced into sterilization when in the justice, mental health, and child welfare systems. Adding to this, we have been forcibly moved from productive lands several times through history, with the most recent being in 1956 when we were forced from reservations and into poor urban areas – with little more than a one-way bus ticket. It is this recent history which is a key factor in how Portland has emerged as the 9th largest Native American population in the USA.