Bus Tour Newsletter #14 – November 2021

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The month of November is National Native American Heritage Month, which is designated to pay tribute to the rich ancestry and history of Native Americans, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Indigenous Peoples. After decades of prominent Native American leaders advocating for official recognition, President George H. W. Bush finally took the steps to designate November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month,” and since 1994, there have been yearly proclamations.

This month’s newsletter is dedicated to the history of Indigenous communities in the Portland metro area, as well as the complex issues and inequities they face today, and highlights ways to honor and celebrate them.


Note: We recognize the complexity of the intersection of oppression, identity, history and language, and acknowledge that there are many differing perspectives on these issues. We use the terms Native American and Indigenous Peoples to refer to the many people who have cared for this land since time immemorial. We further recognize that language evolves over time, and where historical language deviates from our style and is relevant, we have included those historical terms here.

A tribal land map of Oregon. Source: Oregon Indian Tribes and Languages (native-languages.org)


Native American and Indigenous History in Oregon

For thousands of years before modern settler-colonial history, more than 60 tribes lived in Oregon and spoke over 18 languages across hundreds of villages. What is now the Portland metro area was the home of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other tribes who lived along the Columbia River. Tribal people maintained the natural resources, tending to the land and native animal populations of Oregon.

Going as far back as the 1830s, settlers made their way along the Oregon Trail to colonize land that was already home to thousands of Native Americans. In 1850, the Oregon Donation Land Act was passed, offering 320-acre parcels to thousands of settlers, and by 1855, they had taken 2.8 million acres of Native land. A series of treaties in the 1850s removed most Native Americans to reservations who were legally restricted from owning land. A small percentage of Native Americans were not removed to reservations and returned to their traditional homelands after a few years, living on the margins of settler communities.

During World War II, many Native Americans were recruited from reservations across the country to move to Portland for work in the shipyards, creating the beginning of a large urban Native population in Portland. Post-World War II, the Indian Relocation Act in 1956 encouraged people to relocate from reservations into cities like Portland for jobs and vocational training. Portland now contains the 9th largest Native population in the U.S. and 28 Native organizations operate in the Portland area. The Portland urban Native community is descended from more than 380 tribes, and many are multi-tribal and multi-ethnic.


The Dark History of Indian Boarding Schools

With the philosophy, “kill the Indian, save the man,” the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, established in 1879, was the first federally funded Indian boarding school in the U.S. In 1891, a law was passed to make attendance at American Indian boarding schools mandatory for Native children. Chemawa Indian School, in Salem, Oregon is the oldest of four off-reservation boarding schools still run by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education.

Young women from Chemawa trained at the Eugene National Youth Administration for skilled work in the Portland shipyards, 1942. Source: OHS Research Library 

While those who have attended off-reservation boarding schools have had differing experiences, there is a well-documented history of abuse and deaths connected to these schools. Marieval Indian Residential School, a now shuttered boarding school in Canada patterned after American Indian boarding schools, has been in the spotlight recently for the 600 unmarked graves uncovered on its grounds this past June. That same month, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that the U.S. Department of the Interior will formally investigate the impact of federal Indian boarding schools. 

Although the dark histories of these boarding schools are now coming to light, one article published by Indian Country Today highlights the differences in how the U.S. and Canada are reckoning with their similar misdeeds. The article notes “while Canadian officials have apologized for their operation of the schools and are in the process of paying compensation to those who were forced from their homes into the boarding school system, the U.S. has offered no such apologies or payments. In fact, U.S. officials have barely acknowledged the policy existed.”


Housing Insecurity in Native Populations

One in three Native Americans are living in poverty and the median income for this population is $23,000. Poverty rates have been linked to a pervasive lack of employment among the Native American population. To address inequities in education, employment, housing, and economic development, the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) has been providing culturally specific programs and services for the Native American population in the Portland metro area since 1974.

NAYA’s completed Nesika Illahee housing development, February 2020. Source: Indianz.com

NAYA’s Nesika Illahee and Mamook Tokatee developments in the Cully Neighborhood offer access to critically needed housing for the Native community and others. Partnering with the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, these units give first preference to applicants whose head of household is an enrolled member of the Siletz Tribe, or the household includes a minor or dependent child who is an enrolled Siletz tribal member. Second preference goes to applicants with at least one household member enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, Alaska Native, or state recognized tribe as defined in section 4 of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), which gives tribal preference through the Indian Housing Block Grant. 

In national news, NAHASDA was reintroduced in the senate this past June. NAHASDA is the main source of federal housing assistance to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Originally passed in 1996, the bill includes provisions to address the housing crisis in tribal areas and would reauthorize funds that address barriers to housing security for native populations through 2032.


Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

There are many ways to honor and support Indigenous Peoples, American Indians, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives this month. You can educate yourself about whose tribal land you are on with this interactive tool, or watch documentaries like A Tribal Vision for Water and Killing the Klamath about protecting tribal knowledge and ecosystems. With the season of giving upon us, consider donating to help save sacred Klamath Tribe fish, who are an important part of Oregon’s tribal ecosystem. You can also support Indigenous artists and makers this holiday season by shopping online at the Portland Indigenous Marketplace. Lastly, you can expand your knowledge of Indigenous culture by visiting Tamastslikt cultural institute in Pendleton, Oregon or by visiting this Indigenous Art Exhibit hosted by the Architectural Heritage Center in Portland, open now through Dec. 24th.


We want to hear from you


Is there a particular topic we discuss on the bus tour that you are interested in learning more about? Does your organization host events related to racial justice or other topics that come up on our bus tour? Email your events and ideas to information@fhco.org to have them included in our future newsletters.  

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