Portland’s urban Native community is descended from more than 380 tribes, and there are nine sovereign Native American nations located throughout Oregon. Each nation inhabits their own reservation and welcomes visitors in their own way, according to their respective customs and traditions.
Portland artist Caroline Blechert leads a collective of Indigenous jewelry makers.
Meet Loretta Guzman, owner of Bison Coffeehouse in Northeast Portland, the city’s only Native-owned coffee shop.
Portland artist Katherine Paul draws inspiration from the riot grrrl movement, Nirvana and her Swinomish roots.
The Portland metro area rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other tribes and bands. These groups created communities and summer encampments along the Columbia and Willamette rivers and harvested and used the plentiful natural resources of the area for thousands of years.
Portland’s Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), which hosts cultural programming and other events, is located on what, to the Native community, is sacred ground. The site in contemporary Northeast Portland is recognized as the original location of an Indian village known as Neerchokikoo, dating to before 1792 and cited in Lewis and Clark’s journals.
Oregon’s population was largely Native American until relatively recently. The Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850 and accompanying legislation removed tribes and offered free land to white settlers, who laid claim to 2.5 million acres of tribal land — including all of what is now Portland — over the course of just seven years.
Depending upon the time of year, you may find a powwow, salmon fest or other indigenous event within easy reach during your stay in Portland. For a calendar of events, see the Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable website and its Native Connect e-newsletter.
Museums & Art
Several spectacular collections of Native American art celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the region:
- The Oregon Historical Society houses one of the largest photo archives west of the Mississippi, documenting the changing landscape of the West over the last two centuries. The museum is also home to a vast array of Native American basketry, beadwork and carvings.
- The Portland Art Museum displays traditional carving, basketry, paintings and sculpture from tribes throughout the Northwest. The museum’s Native American Art Council hosts lectures and public displays by local and regional artists throughout the year.
- Many shops and galleries in Portland feature Indian art, jewelry, crafts and food products. One established gallery is Arthur Erickson Fine Arts in downtown.
Explore tribally-owned museums such as the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation (210 miles east of Portland in Pendleton, Ore.) or the Museum at Warm Springs on the Warm Springs Reservation (100 miles southeast of Portland).
The various tribal museums, with their permanent and changing exhibits, strive to show not only who Native Americans of Oregon were before contact with Caucasians, but who they are today and who they plan to be in the future.