Native American House, Early Learning, & Community Center Deserves PPS’s Unqualified Support

By José González of Portland, Oregon. José is a candidate for Portland Public Schools Board Zone 2. Learn more at JoseForPortlandSchools.com.

Last Tuesday the Portland Public Schools Board voted against a pre-development agreement on the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) Generations Project planned in Portland’s southeast Lents neighborhood, at the site of a vacant former public elementary school.

Generations is a NAYA-led project to stabilize the lives of Native American youth and families in a holistic, community-based way. At Generations, an on-site Long House community center will provide culturally-specific educational and economic supports. And a regional Early Learning Academy will offer early education for ages zero through Kindergarten, improving the community’s access to this vital resource.

Generations is an intervention—a place to provide Native American foster youth homes, families, and support to break the cycle of child welfare removal in our community.

Portland’s Native students are perpetually under-served. Fifty-three percent of Native students in Portland Public Schools do not obtain a diploma on time. One in five Native American children in Multnomah County is in child welfare custody—a rate 26 times higher than White children.

Removed from their culture, Native American youth are more likely to age out of foster care, experience homelessness, drop out of high school, fail to obtain a diploma, and experience mental health and wellness issues.

For Portland’s Native American community, after three years of planning, preparation and negotiation, this 11th hour decision by the Portland Public Schools Board is heart breaking. Here are some facts about this project:

This is an ambitious, complex project estimated to cost around $22 million dollars and involve many public and private partners. It is a project with immense potential—game changing—and should receive not only applause for its innovative and family-oriented approach, but our unqualified support. It is a brave and bold venture that comes from the very heart of the Native American experience, bringing hope and possibility to the most vulnerable—Native American youth and their siblings in foster care.

I know that most members of the board, those who voted for and against, are supportive of the NAYA Generations project. I know that without question.

I know that there are concerns expressed that will need to be addressed. But I encourage members to consider more than just the dollar costs, but the great value that this project will bring to a people that has suffered decades of trauma and neglect.

I know that NAYA and the Portland Public Schools are not afraid of the light. And I know that this matter is not dead in the water.

I would encourage PPS Board members to consider the children and families that will be impacted by this project, consider the benefit to the neighborhood and community, and like the Iroquois, “when you sit in council for the welfare of the people, think not of yourself or of your family, not even of your generation, but make your decisions on behalf of the seven generations coming, so that they may enjoy what you have today."

The Native American Youth and Family Center is a treasured institution that has advanced the cause and enhanced the lives of the Native American people in our community. They are emblematic of many culturally-specific community based organizations working tirelessly and with limited means to build lives, offer support, uplift the spirits and ignite the potential of people of color throughout the region. They give sustenance and hope.

Culturally-specific community based organizations—like NAYA, like Latino Network, like the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, like the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization and like many, many others—are valuable partners of the Portland Public Schools as it strives for equity, giving every child an equal opportunity for educational and lifetime success. It is critical that the School Board supports the work of organizations like these, and provides leadership for our students’ future.

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