The area where Portland stands today was an important site for Native American trading for tens of thousands of years. In Native American as well as other Indigenous cultures throughout the world, there is a practice of introducing yourself to your hosts in terms of what land you are from and the people you were born to, and asking for permission when entering the territory of another people. In a similar spirt, Portland City Council recently passed a resolution spearheaded by outgoing Commissioner Amanda Fritz that includes among other actions to recognize the deep history of the Indigenous Tribes of this area, formalizes, land acknowledgements before conducting all city business.
Commissioner Fritz began working with the Regional Collaborative Land Acknowledgement Project on policies to promote awareness and inclusion of Native and Indigenous People in 2018. Passing this measure is one step towards promoting more equitable results for Native and Indigenous people who have been abused and mistreated throughout the history of this country. A team of regional Native leaders will work together to create the land acknowledgements which are expected to be completed in 2021.
In another move towards making amends for wrongs inflicted on Native and Indigenous people, Commissioner Fritz directed Southwest Portland’s Custer Park to be renamed. Some Portlanders have been lobbying for this change for years. The park will be referred to as “A Park” until Portland Parks & Recreation can work with neighbors, community stakeholders, historians, and Indigenous Peoples to choose a name that better represents Portlanders and their values. General Custer served during the American Civil war and is known to have decimated at least one Native American village. He was also found guilty of misconduct for abandoning a mission and additionally, had no connection to Oregon.
“I’ve lived in SW Portland for over 30 years, and it’s long been clear to me that the name of Custer Park in the Multnomah neighborhood needs to be changed,” Fritz stated. “While the park itself is a treasured community asset and gathering space, its name does not represent the park nor capture the relationship Portlanders want to have with this wonderful place. Worse, it glorifies a military oppressor instead of honoring the courageous Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors who defended their homelands in what is now Montana.”
Besides the upcoming land acknowledgements prior to all city business, other items approved in the December 2020 City of Portland resolution include making the city’s Indigenous Peoples Day a paid holiday for city employees. The first occurrence of this new paid holiday will take place on Oct. 11, 2021. Additionally, city employees will take part in regular and mandatory training about tribal nations and people that will be developed by the Office of Equity and Human Rights and the Tribal Relations Director, Laura John. The resolution also gives the go-ahead to explore the creation of an American Indian and Alaskan Native preference to improve recruitment and retention in employment. The City Attorney’s Office, Portland Parks & Recreation and Laura John are also looking into the possibility of waiving park fees for American Indian/Alaska Native gatherings and ceremonies.