September 1, 2023

ATNI Establishes Tribal Embassy in Portland

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Embassy will be a central hub and a base for political action for its members: 57 Pacific Northwest tribes.


Underscore News + ICT

In August, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians purchased a $2.6 million building, creating a new home base in Portland for tribal leaders and ATNI members — the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Embassy.

“Before, there was no real home for ATNI,” said Melvin Sheldon Jr., first vice president of ATNI and a Tulalip Tribes board of directors council member. “This acquisition gives us that identity.”

ATNI, an organization founded by tribal leaders in 1953 to fight Termination policies and advocate for tribal sovereignty, has rented a small office in Portland for years. Today, the organization continues to grow — and with it the need for a bigger, more permanent home.

“It’s the opportunity now to really step up to the plate and serve our membership even better,” Sheldon Jr. said.

Located near the Franz bakery on N.E. 12th Ave. in Portland, Sheldon Jr. says the vision is that the ATNI Embassy will serve as a central hub for the organization, housing all of the ATNI programs. That includes initiatives focused on climate change, energy and natural resources.

Through room names, tribal artwork and flags, the new ATNI Embassy will represent 57 member tribes from across the region.

“We want to bring in our culture, show who we are,” Sheldon Jr. said. “It really provides an opportunity for educating and understanding and appreciating the culture of the tribes.”

ATNI members envision the bottom floor of the 7,390 square-foot, two-story building as a common space for hosting guests, with a central kitchen and dining area along with a large conference room and mobile workspaces. The second floor will house office spaces for ATNI staff.

The building also has an on-street retail space, which will be occupied by a Native-owned business once the embassy opens.

The new Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Embassy will serve as a home base and centralized meeting location for the organization and its over 50 member tribes. (Photo courtesy of ATNI)

ATNI then and now

“Generations of tribal leaders have advocated for the legal rights of ATNI tribes to practice their ancient culture and ceremonies, exercise and demand protection of their fishing, gathering, and hunting rights through deliberation and consensus during our conventions and other special meetings,” Leonard Forsman, ATNI president and chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, said in a press release. “Our new home in Portland, Oregon, will be a proper setting to support this important work for another 70 years and beyond.”

In the late 1940s, the federal government announced plans to try and erase the sovereign status of tribes through the Indian Termination Act.

Following mounting Termination Era concerns — and new taxation mandates issued by the Internal Revenue Service seeking to collect back income tax on crop profits — a group of Northwest tribal leaders met to discuss their shared concerns.

In the fall of 1953, leaders met in Spokane, Wash. and formed the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians: Joseph R. Garry (Coeur D’Alene), Alex Sherwood (Spokane), Frank George (Colville), George Friedlander (Colville), Paschal J. George (Coeur D’Alene), Clair Wynecoop (Spokane), Alex Saluskin (Yakama) and Sebastian Williams (Tulalip).

At the time, Garry addressed a letter to Northwest tribal leaders saying the purpose of ATNI would be to “form a united front in our fight against income taxes and other menaces that are presently confronting Indian reservations,” according to ATNI’s website.

Today,  ATNI continues its dedication to promoting the sovereignty and self-determination of tribes across the Pacific Northwest.

The intertribal organization is currently made up of 57 member tribes from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, northern California, western Montana and southeast Alaska.

At the new ATNI Embassy, staff and organization members will come together and continue to advocate for tribes through work on issues including: the recognition of treaty rights, the impact of climate change in tribal communities and addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives, among other challenges, according to Sheldon Jr.

“We serve as a regional voice on issues for all of our tribes,” Sheldon Jr. said. “We bring the Northwest’s concerns to the national level.”

Lead photo: From left, Melvin Sheldon Jr., first vice president of ATNI and a Tulalip Tribes board of directors council member and Leonard Forsman, ATNI president and chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, sign paperwork, officially purchasing the new Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Embassy. (Photo courtesy of ATNI)

Correction: A previous version of this story has been updated to reflect the fact that ATNI was founded in 1953. Underscore News regrets the error.

About the author

Nika Bartoo-Smith

Nika is a journalist with a passion for working to provide platforms for the voices and experiences of communities often left behind in mainstream media coverage. Most recently, she worked as the health and social services reporter at The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington. Prior to working at The Columbian, Nika spent the summer of 2022, after graduating magna cum laude from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism, working as a Snowden Intern at The News-Review in Roseburg, Oregon. A descendant of the Osage and Oneida Nations, Nika was born and raised in Portland. Her favorite way to unwind is by trying a new recipe, curling up with a good book or taking a hike in one of the many green spaces around Portland.

Twitter: @BartooNika


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