Home Coming

[A three-story building called Nesika Illahee]

SILETZ - Rising from the ground these days on a just over a half-acre parcel once the site of the Native village of Neerchokikoo and now the corner of Northeast Holman Street and 42nd Avenue in Portland, Oregon, is a three-story building called Nesika Illahee. In the Chinook language the name means "Our Place." When it opens later this year, it will offer 59 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units of affordable housing and, says Paul Lumley, (https://nayapdx.org/blog/2018/11/20/historic-affordable-housing-project-in-portland) the executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center - or NAYA -that is developing the complex, an "opportunity for Native Americans to return to what is now the Cully neighborhood."

Community Developments Partners of Portland is the developer of the project which also will included a community space, a garden and an outdoor plaza with an exterior featuring, says The Daily Journal of Commerce, (http://djcoregon.com/news/2019/04/05/affordable-housing-project-benefit-native-american-community) "carved wood columns, painted murals and additional Native artwork." Once open, NAYA and the Native American Rehabilitation Association will collaborate to provide "culturally-specific wraparound services" including onsite behavioral health, dental, and recovery services.

It's an impressive, first-of-a-kind partnership, especially because of its partners. A portion of the funding for the Nesika Illahee is being provided by the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians using HUD Indian Housing Block Grant funds. Traditionally, Tribes use those HUD funds to expand or preserve the inventory of affordable housing on their reservations.

The Siletz reservation is a good 130 miles southwest of the corner of Northeast Holman and 42nd in Portland. The Confederations' investment in a Portland development, some might say, is "a bit of a stretch."

In fact, it's good sense. "Portland is one of the areas that we hear time and again that there's a significant homeless population," explains Sami Jo Difuntorum (www.klcc.org/post/siletz-indians-secure-more-funding-portland-housing-project) executive director of the Confederation's tribal housing department. "Particularly of Native people."

In January 2017, reported the Multnomah County and Portland Joint Office of Homelessness Services, (https://multco.us/multnomah-county/news/leaders-community-celebrate-groundbreaking-portlands-first-affordable-housing) 10 percent of those counted as homeless were Native American, compared to the 2.5 percent of the County's total Native American population. "By 2017, we saw a staggering increase in the number of Native community members living outside."

The Confederatied Tribes of Siletz Indians (www.ctsi.nsn.us/chinook-indian-tribe-siletz-heritage) is comprised of 27 Tribes and bands. Today it has some 5,100 enrolled members. About 80 percent of them live in Oregon. But fewer than a third live on its reservation or in the small town of Siletz or in surrounding Lincoln County.

Just as many and probably more live in the Portland metropolitan area. That's where the jobs and the opportunities are. And where, says the Joint Office, in 2017 "Native Americans were four times more likely to experience homelessness than whites" in Multnomah County.

Which is why in return for the Confederation's significant investment, 20 of the 59 units at Nesika Illahee will be set-aside for Siletz members with the balance for other Native families. "This will benefit tribal citizens," says Siletz Tribal chair Dolores Pigsley "for many years to come."

Nesika Illahee is about more than bricks-and-mortar, investments made or benefits conferred. Long before Portland was a city or President Franklin Pierce consigned 27 Tribes and bands to a few acres just a few miles from the central Oregon coast, it was among the lands of the ancestors of today's Siletz. Yes, it's about much-needed housing. More importantly, for members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Nesika Illahee is about coming home.


Content Archived: February 1, 2021