For a long weekend in early September, the sounds of drum beats along with ceremonial songs sung by Indigenous people echo throughout Oxbow Regional Park with the rippling flow of the Sandy River in the distance. The drummers, singers and other Indigenous residents of greater Portland and other parts of the Pacific Northwest were brought to the park by the Pacific Northwest Council of Water Protectors for its second annual Medicine Gathering Sept. 6 through 9.
The three-day family camp, created by and for Native people, focused on learning about Native cultures, which is part of the council’s mission of education and sustainability.
New to this year’s event was the Gathering of the Native Americans curriculum, a healing model for tribal communities that addresses historical and generational trauma, put on by the Native Wellness Institute.
“You have to heal within yourself in order to have a better life,” said Linda Looking, Dakota and president of the council, which formed to continue the teachings that started from Standing Rock in 2016. “This (event) is a part of the healing.”
Each morning started with a blessing. The weekend consisted of informational and activity booths that included making tea from native plants picked from the Native American Youth Council garden, vibrational therapy and various children’s activities. A Metro naturalist also took participants on a walk through Oxbow’s forests. Elders told traditional stories, and attendees learned how to make ribbon skirts while they learned about the history of those skirts.
The cultural learning flows into emergency preparedness as well. The camp taught participants skills to live off the land, to know what plants fulfill what purpose, know how to preserve water for survival.
“I want them to feel confident enough if a disaster does come,” said Looking. “To have some knowledge on what they can do to protect their families and survive (on natural resources).”
Looking works to help Native youth connect to cultural practices because she didn’t feel those connections growing up. As a young person, she saw her culture put down and pushed aside. It wasn’t until adulthood that she began to study and then celebrate the great variety of Indigenous cultures.
“I made it my responsibility to learn what I can from my clans and the surrounding areas,” she said. “I was invited to different ceremonies so I went, and I learned about them. I have 24 grandkids, 6 children, 10 great-grandchildren, and they’re all tribes. I want them to feel comfortable, not uncomfortable like I felt when I was growing up. Because they feel comfortable within their skin, they feel confident about being Native.”
Greater Portland has more than 70,000 Native residents who represent more than 380 different tribes and bands from across North America. Many are multi-tribal and multi-ethnic.
“Some of our people in the urban area are lost,” Looking said. “Some grew up here in the city and had never been on the reservation so they don’t have the knowledge of carrying on that culture. (They’re) uncomfortable walking into their own ceremony because they don’t understand it. We’re trying to teach them to feel comfortable enough to walk into a ceremony even if it’s not their own.”
Metro supported this event through the parks and nature community-led sponsorships program.