Discover Oregon’s Indian Country, Part 1: Portland, a Cultural Hub
From Bison Coffeehouse to an Oglala Lakota-owned food truck to contemporary Native art, experience the indigenous side of Portland
Home to nine tribes, Oregon once served as the territory of 50 tribal nations. Today, their descendants carry on unique, indigenous traditions at Indian reservations, cultural centers, and in urban locales statewide.
While Portland is a considerable distance from most of Oregon’s nine reservations, the city in the state’s northwest corner boasts the ninth-largest Native population in the country. It rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other tribes and bands.
The quirky, green city of Portland embraces its American Indian cultural roots through art galleries, business trade networks and more. With its walkable neighborhoods, easy tram transport, and one of the best farm-to-table food scenes nationwide, not to mention a surplus of excellent breweries and nearby wineries, Portland demands a visit. Plus, it’s sales tax free.
We’ll dive into the must-visit museums and sites.
But first, coffee.
In Portland’s Cully neighborhood, you’ll never want to leave the city’s only Native American-owned café: Bison Coffeehouse. Owned by Loretta Guzman, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes of Fort Hall, Idaho, and a Portland native, Bison Coffeehouse serves delicious espresso shots from local Heart Roasters and Tribal Grounds, a Native-owned roaster in North Carolina, reported Portland Monthly.
“The bison was our people’s survival, our livelihood,” Guzman told the local magazine. “I want this place to represent myself and my people—past and present.”
The fashionable café reflects Guzman’s heritage — and her impeccable taste in design. Native art adorns the walls, and exquisite furniture is lined in vintage Pendleton prints or rawhide. A massive bison head looms over the tables. Sho-Ban News newspapers even sit next to the counter. The modern, creative environment is a welcome contrast to the more industrial settings of the city’s many, trendy coffee shops.
Everything at Bison Coffeehouse is baked in-house, including tender ricotta cakes and bison-shaped sugar cookies lathered in pink icing. But save room for Indian tacos later, or an afternoon treat at the Native-owned Cupcake Jones in either Portland’s Pearl District or its Alberta Arts District.
3941 NE Cully Blvd
6 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday
8 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday–Sunday
Now that you’re caffeinated and inspired by the city’s intrinsic Native culture, it’s time to venture onto Portland’s streets.
Color explodes across Portland’s streets in the form of massive, intricate murals painted on building sides city-wide. Artists of diverse backgrounds take inspiration from their cultures. A local festival, Forest for the Trees, invites muralists, many of them African American and Native American, to paint and collaborate with local artists. Check out Forest for the Trees’ 2016 locations here.
Numerous, non-Native-owned consignment stores sell beautiful Native-made art, baskets, jewelry, drums and other authentic items in Portland. Peruse to your heart’s delight. But we strongly urge you to look for the Ginew clothing line sold at Portland-based Orn Hansen or Wildwood & Company. Ginew (Gih-noo) makes hand-built heirloom goods using old-time methods with a focus on American made materials.
Married couple Erik Brodt (Anishinaabe-Ojibwe) and Amanda Bruegl (Oneida and Stockbridge-Munsee) launched apparel line Ginew in 2010, inspired by the belts they crafted as gifts for their bridal party using buffalo hunted by Erik’s father. Erik, Amanda and family members prepared, tanned and hand-dyed the hide for the belts. Ginew’s designs, including selvedge denim jackets and leather accessories, are heavily influenced by American workwear, motorcycle culture, and their tribal customs. The pair were recently featured at a Native American fashion exhibit at the Portland Art Museum.
The couple, Wisconsin natives living in Portland, says their family story is a contemporary narrative of Native American blacksmiths, farmers, machinists, sawyers, and welders. Every item they make draws direct inspiration from their relatives.
Ginew, ginewusa.com. Sold at Orn Hansen, ornhansen.com, 2627 SE Clinton St, Portland, OR 97202, (971) 319-6415; and at Wildwood & Company, wildwoodcompany.com, 529 SW 3rd AvenuePortland, Oregon 97204 (behind Barista coffee shop), (971) 238-2548.
Native Art: Then and Now.
Portland’s two major museums, the Portland Art Museum and Oregon Historical Society, showcase tribal artifacts and artwork. The former, one of the oldest and largest museums, organized in 1892, houses 5,000 artifacts — one of the most comprehensive collections of Native history in the country. On the second and third floors of the Portland Art Museum’s main building, you’ll find the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art, dedicated to all tribes of Oregon. Think fascinating masks and whaling canoes.
Modern-day Indian culture is on display at Portland Art Museum’s Center for Contemporary Native Art, which opened in fall 2015. It’s devoted to highlighting the arts and crafts of living Native artists.
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205, (503) 226-2811, Closed Mondays, Open 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Extended hours on Thursdays and Fridays until 8 p.m. The average visitor spends up to 2.5 hours in the museum.
Because, Frybread Tacos.
This spot is our only recommendation outside of the borders of Portland, the focus of Part 1 in our two-part series. Teepee’s is a 20-minute drive away in Beaverton, Oregon. Go here on your way to tour Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton. More on that tomorrow.
Rod Thompson, Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, relies on beloved family recipes to cook and fry savory Indian tacos, or sweet fry breads, at his popular food cart, Teepee’s. The food truck’s name represents community, and the yellow bird on the logo pays homage to his grandmother, Yellow Bird. Among the diverse selection of Indian tacos and more, the “Supreme” taco is well-dressed with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream over ground beef and beans. And you probably can’t resist some powdered sugar frybread bites for dessert.
Teepee’s, 4810 SW Western Avenue Spc E, Beaverton, Oregon, in front of the garage sale warehouse, @Teepeesfrybread, (971) 777-1315, Tues.-Sat., 11a.m. to 5 p.m.
Next, Tranquil Beauty in Portland.
Returning to Portland from the west, you’ll pass the Portland Japanese Garden. Though not directly related to Native American culture, this enchanted natural paradise merits a visit. Five vibrant gardens tout a serene waterfall, teahouse and mountain view. The most popular botanical wonder within the 5.5-acre attraction is the Japanese Maple tree.
Portland Japanese Garden, 611 SW Kingston Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97205, (503) 223-1321
Lisa Watson, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde, is the owner and founder of Cupcake Jones, a bakery making divine, handcrafted cupcakes with seasonal, local ingredients, right down to the candied rose petals and fresh lemon curd toppings. Opened in 2007, today Cupcake Jones employs about 10 people at its two convenient locations.
Pearl District location, 307 NW 10th Avenue, Monday thru Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday Noon-6pm; Alberta Arts District, 1405 NE Alberta, check website for seasonally updated hours.
Other facts and tips.
The state’s tourism office offers a thorough overview of Native heritage and relevant cultural sites in Oregon. Two tribes maintain business office within Portland: The Confederated Tribes of Grand Rondeand The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Nonprofits The Native American Youth & Family Center and The Northwest Area Foundation call Portland home. And Portland-based ONABEN, a national nonprofit created in 1991 by four Oregon tribes, aims to encourage the development of a private sector on tribal reservations nationwide. ONABEN empowers Native business development organizations and entrepreneurs with its Indianpreneurship curriculum.
Check back with Indian Country Media Network tomorrow for an article about exploring Oregon’s iconic coast and forested countryside, and its incredible culinary scene, through an indigenous lens.
This story was originally published April 8, 2017.