For the fourth year in a row, the Metro Council is recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day. The day is traditionally celebrated as Columbus Day, a federal holiday, though the state of Oregon does not observe it.
On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Metro Council voted to commemorate Indigenous Peoples' Day, joining the City of Portland.
"We, together, are taking bold steps to be role models for other cities, counties and regional government,” said Laura John, the City of Portland’s tribal relations director. John is also a member of Metro's Committee on Racial Equity.
“Together our work towards improving tribal relations will not only assist in creating positive government-to-government relationships,” John said, “but it will, in fact, improve the opportunities and ultimately the prosperity of the native people that live, work, and play in the Portland metro area."
Portland has the ninth largest urban Native American population in the United States, with more than 40,000 tribal people representing 380 tribes.
Despite a large population, native people face among the highest rates of homelessness and unemployment, and lack equitable access to community resources, according to Sean Cruz, executive director of the Jim Pepper Native Arts Council.
"Invisibility is still here; it's still with us," Cruz said.
Earlier this year on May 5, the Metro Council called awareness to missing and murdered native women and children.
“You heard from our staff and community members as well about this alarming crisis,” Roger Gonzalez said to the Metro Council. Gonzalez is chief of staff to Councilor President Tom Hughes.
“I want to stress that the disparities you hear [about] are the direct cause of policy and really demonstrates why it's important for us to be very mindful as we step forward,” John said. “Addressing racism, exclusion and inequities in fact addresses those issues in every other community.”
“There's a lot of work to do in order to improve the conditions for native and indigenous people in the region,” Gonzalez said. “You have a role to play as leaders in this community. This proclamation, though largely symbolic, is important in this journey together.”
Metro staff is working to improve how the agency engages with members of the indigenous community to inform policies, practices and programs, in alignment with the Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
“We find so much knowledge and appreciation among the indigenous community for this place we all cherish, and valuable ideas for how we can work together to shape a more equitable, healthy, livable future for all,” said Cassie Salinas, Metro’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion project manager.
“Today’s proclamation to mark this day of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is so significant in so many ways,” said Shyla Spicer, executive director of the Portland All Nations Canoe Family. “This is an opportunity to continue to educate.”
Spicer said stories about the origins of this country are inaccurate and inadequate. “Columbus did not discover America; Lewis and Clark did not discover the Columbia River,” she said.
Spicer said these inaccurate stories “matter a great deal in our everyday lives.”
She shared a story with Metro Councilors about how her son’s classmates laughed at him when he tried to share his Yakima culture with them during a Thanksgiving feast at school five years ago. She said these young children called indigenous people “mythological,” which devastated her son.
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day offers the opportunity for another kind of discovery - that indigenous people were never invisible,” Spicer said. “We have been here. We are still here. This is our land and our home.”