Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Portland State

Dear Campus Community, 

Please join me in honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day today at Portland State. This year, the state of Oregon joined more than 50 states and cities in formally recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day.

A day of honor is a time to reflect and to recommit. It is a time to honor the Native community as a present part of our community. The Portland area is home to one of the largest urban Native American populations in the nation, 40,000 strong. We are growing our Native American student body, and this fall Native American students make up 4% of our first-year class. 

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a time to affirm all of the ways Native knowledge and traditions have shaped the U.S today, often without acknowledgment.

As we lean into our responsibility to act for climate justice, it is a reminder to center traditional ecological practices and knowledge that have cared for the land for centuries. It is a reminder to continue to grapple with the legacy of oppression, genocide and colonization. And it is a reminder to make our efforts more meaningful and deeper than land acknowledgments. We must decolonize thinking and practices, support Native student success and work to attract more Native students and staff. 

All of this was on my mind when I joined the Indigenous Nations Studies department and the Portland Native community on Sept. 29 for a Salmon Bake, Seed Scattering and Land Blessing Ceremony at the PSU Oak Savannah. This Welcome Week event was part of an ongoing effort to reclaim and restore the Oak Savanna habitat and create a Center of Indigenous Traditional Ecological and Cultural Knowledge (ITECK) at PSU.

As I scattered seeds upon the Oak Savannah, at the invitation of event sponsors, I deeply felt the values of Native American ancestors to appreciate and support nature rather than exploit it.

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the faculty, staff and students who are working to advance Native student success, including those in Indigenous Nations Studies, the Native American Student & Community Center, the Cultural Resource Centers and the Nations program, Enrollment Management, the Native Caucus, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. We appreciate the United Indigenous Students in Higher Education for organizing the Naimuma Pow Wow each year. We also recognize the important role that PSU’s Institute for Tribal Government plays in our state, building capacity for respectful government-to-government relations. 

I am excited about the dramatic renovation of Science Building 1 into the new Vernier Science Center. The new classrooms, labs and gardens will center Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students as we transform STEM education at PSU to be inclusive and culturally affirming. The new spaces also will support expansion of Indigenous Traditional Ecological and Cultural Knowledge-based curriculum, practices and partnerships.

You are invited to two events on campus this week: 

— Indigenous Peoples' Day 2021 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today, Oct. 11, at the Native American Student & Community Center, 710 S.W. Jackson St. Presenters include PSU student poet Brianna Grisby and the Indigenous 20-Something Project, an intertribal movement to bring healing and wellness to Indigenous people in their 20s and stop the toxic impacts of intergenerational trauma. Limited capacity in person with live-streaming.

Fall Welcoming Salmon Bake from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13 in the PSU Park Blocks, at Park Avenue and Mill Street, hosted by the School of Gender, Race & Nations and the Indigenous Nations Studies Department.

These events are part of the Presidential speaker and programming series designed to recognize and honor the rich, robust cultures, traditions and histories that are part of the PSU community. Along with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we will celebrate Juneteenth, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta Day, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and our Middle Eastern, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) communities.

I hope to see you at these events throughout the coming year.


President Stephen Percy
Portland State University