Racism Against Indigenous Peoples in Oregon
We celebrate the rich history and diversity of all Indigenous peoples. We honor the beauty and complexity of Indigenous cultures and the ways that they have lived in harmony with this land for generations. Their beautiful traditions, creative expressions, advocacy as caretakers and protectors of land, and insight into sustainability have established a rich legacy.
We also acknowledge our part in and are deeply grieved by the tragic, inhumane treatment and genocide of Indigenous tribes, both historic and present day.
The land that Oregon now occupies was originally home to a vibrant, thriving and diverse community of multiple Indigenous tribes and different languages spoken. What we now call Portland, OR were the traditional lands of the Cowlitz, Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater, Tualatin Kalapuya, Wasco, Molalla, and Watlala bands of the Chinook, and many other nations of the Nch’i Wána (“The Big River”), also known as the Columbia River.
In the late 1700’s, contact with Europeans knowingly introduced a wave of epidemics, such as smallpox and measles, which continued into the early 1800’s through the American fur trade. The Indigenous communities lost between 50 to 90 percent of their populations by the mid 1800’s.
The Donation Land Claim Act was signed into law in 1850. This enabled white settlers to claim up to 640 acres of land in the Oregon Territory, at no cost. By 1855, settlers had taken 2.8 million acres of Indigenous peoples’ land. Settlers began to destroy many of the tribes’ food sources, plowing over their fields and wiping out wild game. Indigenous tribes began to feel pressure to relocate to reservations in the 1850s. But by the 1860s, many began going back to their traditional land — to work for white settlers, as reservation land was usually undesirable, not suitable for agriculture or traditional fishing practices
In the years following, the Warm Springs Treaty of 1865 was signed, limiting the Warm Springs and Wasco tribes’ ability to leave reservations to hunt, fish and utilize the land for food. The US Congress only nullified this law in September of 2020.
Over the years, more laws negatively impacting tribes continued to be passed. There was forced relocation to reservations, as well as boarding schools meant to “assimilate Indigenous children into Western society,” erasing their tribal cultures — one of the many forms of ethnic cleansing that Indigenous peoples have endured. Thousands of Indigenous people relocated to work at Portland’s Vanport shipyard production during WWII. Following the war efforts, federal policies were passed revoking tribal sovereignty, claims to reservation land, access to health care, rights to fish and hunt, as well as erasure of tribal identity.
The devastation of the past continues to the present day, with Indigenous peoples still enduring long standing institutional racism. Poverty rates are triple that of the white community, with child poverty over 45 percent. In Multnomah county, Indigenous children affected by foster care are 20 times more likely to be taken from their families than white children. The Indigenous communities continue to be deeply impacted by unemployment and violent crimes. More than half do not graduate high school, and 76% do not have access to health insurance.
These realities break the heart of the Father. We lament past and present evil done to Indigenous tribes. We repent of racism against Indigenous people who are made in the image of God. We acknowledge that the land we occupy as a nation, city, and church, was taken unjustly from Indigenous tribes. We pray for justice and healing for Indigenous communities. We acknowledge that there is still much work to be done, and seek the Spirit’s leading on how to be a part of healing and reconciliation.
Katya Bright Moon Wawrykow, First Nations of Canada