Hundreds gathered Thursday night as a spotlight hit the stage at the Redd on Salmon in Portland. Imani Mitchell, an afro-Indigenous Niimiipuu descendant, took to the stage rapping, opening it up for Northwest Native Chamber executive director James Alan Parker.
Wearing a multi-strand beaded necklace resembling a gold chain made by his wife Se-ah-dom Edmo, Parker welcomed the audience to The Gathering, the annual Northwest Native Chamber gala extravaganza.
“I’m standing in a room, this room right now, with people who change the world,” said Parker, Chippewa Cree. “Today we call into existence the economies of the future grounded in generations of culture and belonging, all tied to the lands that we stand upon today.”
‘A celebration of Indigenous excellence’
Formerly known as Oregon Native American Chamber, the organization celebrated its recent name change at The Gathering.
“Northwest Native Chamber is an intentional reconsideration of who we are and all our relations,” Parker’s voice boomed as he narrated a video about the rebrand.
Founded in 1994 as the Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce by Mitch Conley, Grand Ronde, the organization previously changed its name to Oregon Native American Chamber in 2008. The latest iteration, Northwest Native Chamber helps represent the expansion of the nonprofit into Washington and Idaho.
“Really tonight is just a celebration of Indigenous excellence,” said Amber Faist, Coquille, programs director at Northwest Native Chamber. “It’s: how can we elevate all of the amazing work that has been happening? How can we celebrate together? How can we recirculate dollars into our tribal economies with our events?”
Northwest Native Chamber is grounded by three main pillars: education and growth, building relationships and economic justice and transformation. The Gathering created space to amplify all three.
On Thursday, the organization celebrated 10 students and gifted each a blanket — this year’s class of Student Achievement Awards, which provides financial support to Indigenous students.
One of the awardees, Kaitlyn Hunsberger, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, is pursuing her doctoral degree in educational leadership with a specialization in post secondary at Portland State University. Money from this award will help pay for her last few terms of school.
“To be recognized as a Native scholar, it’s really important to me because my dissertation work specializes in Indigenous methodologies and Indigenous ways of knowing,” Hunsberger said. “And so I really wanted to highlight the strengths-based, culturally relevant Indigenous approaches to education that are happening right now.”
Supporting Indigenous students is just one of the ways Northwest Native Chamber is working to positively transform the economic landscape and strive toward a world of economic justice. Much of the work the organization does focuses on uplifting and supporting Native entrepreneurs, and many of those entrepreneurs attended The Gathering on Thursday.
“These roads to business success and opportunities for prosperity, they weren’t ever intended for us,” Parker said. “As such we became labeled disenfranchised, they call us hard to reach. But really it’s about listening to us and understanding our perspective and that with support, we are the best equipped to create the solutions we need together.”
As a crowd of hundreds gathered together at the Redd on Salmon — chatting, laughing, making introductions — the event brought together Native and non-Native people from across Portland and beyond to spend an evening celebrating some of the amazing work of Indigenous people across the Northwest.
Chef Jack Strong, Siletz, and Vibrant Table Catering, provided food. One table was covered by an “edible garden” — radishes, carrots and other vegetables burrowed into humus, resembling a garden filled with plump vegetables ready for harvest. Main dishes featured an option of tribal-caught salmon, bison or duck breast.
“It’s really great to be a part of this event and share Native foods with everyone,” Strong said to the crowd when emcee Alyssa Macy called him forward to share a few words.
Midway through the evening, a fashion show featuring three Native designers had the crowd clapping and shouting with excitement.
Kicking off the show, four models walked out in streetwear designs by Dusty LeGrande. Two carried signs reading “Free Palestine,” a mini-protest within The Gathering.
LeGrande, Cree, started his streetwear brand, Mobilize, in 2018. He is the first Indigenous designer from Canada to be featured in The Gathering’s fashion show.
“I always acknowledge the energy that goes into what I create,” LeGrande said. “That it’s not just my own, it involves my children, the ancestors, all of the community and kin that’s with me. I started this brand as a mission to reconnect Indigenous youth with their culture in a new way.”
Next, models showed work from NEO. Model Kunu Bearchum’s black and white checkered overalls had jingles hanging from a chest zipper down to his back pocket.
The final designer, Kellen Trenal, founder of Trenal Originals, modeled his work, while performing a spoken word piece. One model held a sign made of leather reading “Pay Us.”
Trenal, Black and Niimiipuu, held a painted drum while he delivered that message.
“Pay us in blood overflowing no longer measured down to the teaspoon. How dare you ask me, how much are you?,” Trenal said during his performance.
Closing out the night, Snotty Nose Rez Kids wowed. Haisla rappers Darren "Young D" Metz and Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce formed a mosh pit for the audience to dance alongside Nyce.
The crowd got particularly loud with the first few notes of the duo’s song “Boujee Natives.” It was perhaps the perfect song for an evening where people showed up dressed in their finest — long braided hair, beadwork, cedar hats, dentalium earrings and ribbon skirts.
“We them boujee natives, big hat with the brim. We them boujee natives, got that custom made bling. We them boujee natives, new cedar, new sweetgrass, new sage. We them boujee natives, hold my knowledge in my braids”
Dozens joined in as Snotty Nose Rez Kids rapped.
Lead photo: Designer Kellen Lewis of Trenal Original posed with models after the fashion show at The Gathering, the annual gala held Thursday, Oct. 19 by the Northwest Native Chamber. From left to right: Chloe Thompson, Nez Perce/Black, Gabriella Lewis, Nez Perce/Umatilla, Winter Hayes, Nez Perce/Black, Kellen Lewis, Nez Perce/Black, owner of Trenal Original. (Photo by Jarrette Werk Underscore News / Report for America)