October 5, 2018

More than 70,000 people with Native American origins live in the Portland area, 380 tribes have deep roots and history in the region, and the land Multnomah County rests on today is indigenous land, inhabited long before European settlers arrived.

That was the message Thursday as the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed Monday, Oct. 8 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Multnomah County. Since 2015, the County has celebrated the date instead of Columbus Day to honor the region’s indigenous people and recognize the many contributions they make in our community.

In addition to celebrating indigenous history, Multnomah County partners with Native American providers, including Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) and Native American Rehabilitation Association (NARA), to improve outcomes for the local tribal community in a culturally-responsive way.  

Commissioner Lori Stegmann co-sponsored the proclamation with Chair Deborah Kafoury. She said the proclamation isn’t just about acknowledging the indigenous community. It’s about correcting the past.

“Today we honor the many people and communities who first inhabited and revered this land,” Stegmann said. “I’m proud to be part of a county and state who have rectified history by recognizing Oct. 8 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” 

A member of the local indigenous community performs an honor song during the Indigenous Peoples' Day proclamation.

The proclamation included testimony from Anna Marie Allen, Shoshone-Bannock, a policy advisor for Chair Deborah Kafoury’s Office; Paul Lumley, Yakama, executive director for NAYA ; Laura John, Blackfeet-Seneca, the Tribal Relations director for the City of Portland; and Jillene Joseph, Gros Ventre, executive director of the Native Wellness Institute.

Each guest spoke of their own indigenous heritage and shed light on the many tribes who share origins in the region.

“This proclamation affirms our existence,” Joseph said. “We are more than guests at a historical Thanksgiving feast, and we are more than a casino getaway. I’m grateful the County I reside in is expanding their worldview and moving towards equity and inclusion.”

Lumley, a citizen of the Yakama Nation in Washington, remembers learning about Columbus Day while growing up even though he went to a mostly Native American school. He’s honored that Multnomah County is celebrating indigenous history.

“I’m feeling like a whole person again by recognizing who I am and who our ancestors are,” Lumley said. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a great reminder for everyone that we all bring something valuable to the table.”

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said, is a “really strong statement in reclaiming the story, the history of native people and starting to do the work that needs to be done in terms of dismantling systemic racism.”

Learn more about our regional Indigenous people through an initiative led by the Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable called Leading with Tradition.