There’s a New Queer in Town
When I first arrived in Portland in 2006, it was on a bus from Omaha, Nebraska. For a good part of that trip, rolling past pronghorn, plains, and the continental divide, I was alone. The isolating feeling of moving to a new city was one thing, but doing so on an almost-empty bus was entirely different.
Thankfully, at some point during the journey an elder from the Warm Springs Reservation sat next to me. She looked me up and down, smiled, and asked “Portland?”
We talked about my plans—I had none, really—our families, her adventures in boarding school, and most importantly, the value of finding a place in the Rose City as someone who is Two-Spirit—queer and Indigenous.
She disembarked in Hood River, and I ended up in Portland.
This city offers a lot for the queer newcomer, but for the Two-Spirit community, starting life in Stumptown requires a kind of Indigenous ingenuity—Indigenuity—that author and scholar Gerald Vizenor calls “survivance,” a mix of survival and resistance. There are no welcoming parties for you at the bus station, and sometimes the harsh reality of a city like Portland is a real let-down. I arrived in April. By May I was homeless, and bouncing from couch to couch. That year I spent more time on benches and renting rooms at Steam PDX than I did in stable housing.
There’s no shame in these difficulties, of course, but it’s good to know that if you’re new to town and need help, Portland’s Indigenous community has services in place.
Where to Go When You Don’t Know
I think 2006 would have gone a lot smoother if I’d known about organizations like the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest (NARA). With inpatient and outpatient clinics throughout Portland, NARA provides the urban Indigenous population with the kind of compassion and culturally competent service our community needs. If you’re looking for a primary care physician, HIV/STI testing, diabetes care, and more, NARA can help fill the gap. And if you’re Indigenous, they’ll help you find ways to pay, so you can get the care you need. naranorthwest.org
If you care for elders or children, are dreaming of finding a home someday, or want to volunteer in the community, then the Native American Youth and Family Center is a great place to start. Their family-facing programs are crucial, and their queer-friendly attitude makes them a strong ally to the Two-Spirit community. 5135 NE Columbia, nayapdx.org
The Portland Two Spirit Society has been at the forefront of advocating for queer Indigenous peoples, and hosts social events throughout the year culminating with participation in Portland’s annual Pride Parade. facebook.com/Portland2Spirits
Things to Do
Delta Park Powwow and Dancing in the Square are the city’s two big Indigenous celebrations. The Delta Park Powwow typically occurs the same weekend as Pride. And Delta Park is easy to get to via the MAX Yellow Line. Dancing in the Square coincides with American Indian Day in September and takes place at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Portland State University’s annual United Indigenous Students in Higher Education’s (UISHE) Naimuma Powwow happens in May on the PSU campus. UISHE also holds an annual Salmon Bake on the South Park Blocks on the Portland State Campus.
Something to Remember
It might feel isolating to be in a city like Portland, but please don’t forget that this is Indigenous land, and we are here all around you. Use the above events and resources to find us, and let us help you feel at home.
Originally from San Antonio, Texas, AJ Earl is a citizen of the Comanche Nation, a two-time Native American Journalism Fellow, and a 2018 Columbia Scholar. They are a Post-Bac at Portland State University finishing a BA in History before heading off to American University to begin an MA in Public History. They have a husband, two cats, and live in lovely Rockwood.