Update from the RwR Cohort

Reckoning with Racism Cohort Update: National Native American Heritage Month

November is National Native American Heritage Month. You can access a bounty of fascinating Native American information, resources, exhibits, collections and more at this website. We strongly commend it to you.

For example, after just a few moments of searching the site, my eye caught the name Sarah Winnemucca in the “Today in History” links.

The Winnemucca Indian Colony is in Northern Nevada, just across the Oregon border. It is adjacent to and historically encompassed sacred indigenous land, and is now the site of a controversial lithium mining project known as Thacker Pass. Our cohort has tracked and discussed this project from time to time. We remain concerned about the development of this mine. Is this an example of “green colonialism,” a project overrunning indigenous rights and voices to facilitate the transition to a post-fossil fuel economy? If “green” projects still fail to honor treaty rights or to include meaningful indigenous participation and consent to project planning and execution from affected tribes, are the projects “just?”

Sarah’s story provides richness and color to today’s news. Sarah was Northern Paiute, daughter of a chief, born around 1844, and one of the few tribal members fluent in English. She was a tireless advocate for her people. She was an author, speaker, and teacher, collaborating with Elizabeth Peabody, a leader in kindergarten education, and Mary Peabody Mann, widow of educator Horace Mann, to establish a school for Indian children near Lovelock, Nevada designed to promote the Paiute language and culture. Tragically, that school was forced to close by the 1887 Dawes Act, which required Indian children to attend English-speaking boarding schools. Governmental policies to erase indigenous cultures and to deny indigenous rights that seem to be in the distant past, unfortunately still echo today.

Turning to our neighborhood and to this season of thanksgiving and gratitude, we are pleased to report that a little bit of justice and a little bit of peace is happening right now, about 10 blocks south of St. Michael’s down Sandy Boulevard at the former Presbyterian Church of Laurelhurst. For the last few years, Future Generations Collaborative, an indigenous-led nonprofit serving the needs of indigenous people in Portland, has been working with Laurelhurst Presbyterian, the Presbytery of the Cascades and others to convert the church property into Barbie’s Village, a tiny-home village and educational center that will serve unhoused indigenous families.

On October 9, Indigenous People’s Day, several members of our cohort attended a worship gathering, a Children’s Mini Pow Wow, a Salmon Dinner and a gathering of indigenous artists and vendors at Barbie’s Village. We worshiped together, prayed and acted to encourage the Presbytery to transfer title to Laurelhurst Presbyterian to the Future Generations Collaborative for one dollar and without restrictions in a bold act of “Land Back.” The Presbytery voted to do this on November 3. We are grateful to and thankful for all the people who made this happen!

Barbie’s village is named for Barbie Shields, who was a member of the Warm Springs Tribe and an Elder/Natural Helper with the Future Generations Collaborative. She loved being of service to the community and her family. She passed away several years ago. Barbie’s Village honors her life and legacy.

Finally, as neighbors and friends, we plan to continue building relationships with Barbie’s Village and the Future Generations Collaborative in the coming weeks, months and years and to support Barbie’s Village with our time, talent and treasure. All are welcome to join with us in this work, whether you have time or availability to attend all our cohort meetings. Please reach out to Peter Sergienko with any questions or for more details, and you can read more about this amazing story here.

— Peter Sergienko for the Reckoning with Racism cohort