Portland’s First Annual Tribal Nations Summit
The morning of Friday, September 28th was rather warm for early autumn, with clear blue skies and the moon still showing in the sky off to the west. A very special occasion took place between city government officials and representatives of the Cowlitz, Nez Perce, Grand Ronde, Siletz, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes. Tom McCall Waterfront was the setting for what was the beginning of Portland’s First Annual Tribal Nations Summit. The summit’s theme was “Coming Together as One”. It was part of the official launch of the Tribal Relations Program and Portland City Council Resolution 36941 which codifies a partnership between the Tribal Government Partners and the City of Portland.
The ceremony involved tribal chanting and drums welcoming two ceremonial canoes that carried Native youth and elders, some adorned in traditional regalia. Riding in the procession with them were Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly as well as other Portland officials and representatives. The circuitous, several-minute route led to the water’s edge as the drumming and singing came to a climax. The canoe ride to begin this summit represented an ancient traditional ceremony where visitors entering tribal lands ask permission to come ashore.
I spoke with Renea Perry, former Native Nations Diversity Retention Coordinator at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, who was kind enough to discuss the significance of today’s events. Perry is a citizen of the Klinkit-Haida Nation of southeast Alaska, White Mountain and Iñupiat from north Alaska and is also Northern European. She is currently enrolled in the Indigenous Nations Studies Program at Portland State University. Perry shared the significance of this ceremony,
“This is a historic event of initiating, engaging, and revitalizing the government to government relations between the city of Portland and the tribes. Today’s Tribal Council meeting with the city is significant to help support ongoing relations to support native issues of people living in the metro area.”
She also described how Portland, Oregon has the 9th largest urban Native community in the country, home to 74,000 native people from 380 plus tribes from the US and Canada. There was a lot of focus at PCC around the development of a Native American Studies curriculum and recruiting more Native faculty and staff to better represent the Native student demographic. Perry noted that Blake Houseman, the chair of the English Department at Southeast Campus has done great work in this regard. PCC advisor, Rachel Black Elk was instrumental in raising awareness and advocating for the native indigenous population in and around Portland.
Perry also discussed how this past year Portland Tribal Liaison, Laura John, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA’s Debra Mantubi, and other community members spoke in front of city council members about missing and murdered indigenous women. Their efforts led to the city’s proclamation of May 5th as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Day. This is a nationally recognized day though it has yet to be adopted and recognized by all cities across the country.
You can hear the entire interview with Renea Perry and play Episode #7 of the podcast “PCC, Sustain Me!” below.