Noting the vast and vibrant contributions of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives to Multnomah County, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted a proclamation Thursday marking the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day.
Indigenous People’s Day will replace what is known nationally as Columbus Day, though the state of Oregon does not recognize the federal holiday.
“Reclaiming the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day makes a powerful statement,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “It says, ‘We are no longer going to celebrate a time of genocide, but instead we will honor the land we live on and the people who have been here since the beginning.”’
The proclamation follows last year’s call to recognize November as Native American Heritage Month in Multnomah County.
More than 40,000 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives call Multnomah County home and play a vital role in sustaining the county’s culture, promoting community health, and making positive impacts in the lives of all county residents.
“Multnomah County recognizes that our home is built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region and it is our responsibility to acknowledge and educate ourselves and others about the truth,” Kafoury said. “Today, we get a chance to do that and to start this important conversation and I’m really honored to be a part of this.”
Ruben Young Joseph Woodley, a 20-year-old member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe called the proclamation historic.
“As a young person, it is such an honor to see Multnomah County making steps toward historical healing with our Indigenous Peoples around the world,” Woodley said. He said he looks forward to someday raising children who are free to “celebrate their heritage and where they come from and not have to feel the pressures of going to school and wondering why we celebrate Columbus Day because of the horrible, horrendous things that have happened to our people.”
The Native American Youth and Family Center presented each commissioner with an “honoring necklace” at Thursday’s meeting. The double-strand necklaces are made of blue beads and shells collected from the Washington coast by an elder, said Donita Fry, NAYA’s youth & elders council coordinator. The strands symbolize the connection between the past and the community investment in the future. The shells represent community wealth, which is demonstrated by giving to others and the community at-large.
The gift of an honoring necklace is a NAYA tradition. A person is given a necklace in recognition of their investment in the community, the organization said. Thursday’s presentation also included a traditional blessing and song.
Kafoury urged residents to mark Indigenous People’s Day, which will be celebrated on Oct. 12 this year, by reaching out to, learning more about, educating others on the contributions of and building relationships with Native American and Alaskan Native community members.