Native Americans celebrate – with fall festival in Lents

Here’s why groups like these add to the richness of outer East Portland’s rich cultural tapestry …

Lena Almeter and Susan Skinner are clearly enjoying their afternoon at the Columbia River Camp 49 Alaska Native Brotherhood potlatch, in Lents Park.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
From Lents Founders Day celebrations, to family picnics, Lents Park is the site of many happy gatherings in outer East Portland.

On a recent beautiful Saturday afternoon, we were welcomed to a picnic – actually a cultural celebration – hosted by Native Americans: It was their annual “potlatch”.

“‘Potlatch’ means ‘celebration’,” explained Columbia River Camp 49 Alaska Native Brotherhood President Frank Alby.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz proudly shows her membership card, as she stands with Frank Alby of the Columbia River Camp 49 Alaska Native Brotherhood.

“We have a potlatch every fall,” Alby said. “It’s almost akin to Thanksgiving. We give thanks for the bountiful, full harvest that Mother Earth has provided for us. Members and friends come from all over to join us, and eat and celebrate together.”

Columbia River Camp 49 has members who reside in Eugene, Vancouver, Gresham, Portland, Hillsboro, and Seattle and Arlington, Washington – and beyond – we learned.

The purpose of having a camp, he said, is that “We still have issues as far as working for the benefits and rights of native people. We are working to improve our education, and social and economic status. It’s kind of an on-going process.”

Patrick DeCelles, Arnesto Soc, and Robert Strawser enjoy the unique menu provided at this special potluck luncheon.

Although the Alaska Native Brotherhood was first organized in Sitka, Alaska in 1912 – now in its centennial year – Alby said Camp 49 was started in Portland in March 2008.

“Right now we have a very strong Camp, approximately 60 members of the Alaskan natives, non-natives and friends. “You don’t have to be a Native American to join – we accept members of all races, colors, and creeds.”

Proving the point Alby made about featuring open membership was Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who stopped by the Lents Park potlatch.

“I got to know about the Alaska Native Brotherhood last year,” Fritz told us, “when they invited me to one of their meetings. I just renewed my membership today.”
Fritz said she was proud to be part of a group that actively supports Native Americans, and she endorses their work in the community.

The afternoon is filled with conversation, and dining on traditional foods, during this distinctive picnic potlatch.

“We have such a rich diversity of native communities here in Portland, both urban and historical,” Fritz commented. “It’s a joy to be part of one of them.”

Some Portlanders connect by helping improve watersheds, Fritz added, “And others connect with through their history and family relationships. Part of what makes Portland great is that we have a rich mosaic of vibrant cultural communities here.”

Except in the summer months, Columbia River Camp 49 Alaska Native Brotherhood meets monthly to “get together and talk about the issues of the day, and see what we can do, as a group, to improve understanding of those issues,” Alby said.

> To learn more about this organization, see their Facebook page: CLICK HERE.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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