Land acknowledgement proposal divides Gladstone City Council
Gladstone's proposal to read a Native land acknowledgment before City Council meetings this month led to regional controversy and a deepening of the political divide among council members.
Gladstone City Councilor Annessa Hartman, a member of the Cayuga Nation, last month introduced a proposal to begin council meetings by reading an acknowledgment of the Grand Ronde tribes that occupied the Gladstone area before its incorporation as a city.
"It is important because Indigenous people have not been recognized," Hartman said.
Hartman's proposal was voted down 3-4 on Oct. 12, with some city councilors expressing concern about adding to their list of items that they are trying to finish up before the end of the year. Prior to Gladstone's Nov. 9 meeting and in anticipation of National Native American Heritage Month, city officials received signed statements from over 30 elected officials throughout Oregon, including from state representatives, school boards and city councils that have adopted land acknowledgments in their jurisdictions.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, North Clackamas School Board member Kathy Wai read a statement to Gladstone officials on behalf of the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.
"Land acknowledgments are the first step, and certainly not the last, in healing the generational trauma placed upon Indigenous people," the caucus' statement said. "For Gladstone City Council to begin healing, it would be a step in the right direction for non-Natives to take initiative and include land acknowledgments in their daily work."
As the city's elected officials debated whether to reconsider their vote on the land acknowledgment, Gladstone Councilor Randy Ripley announced that he could claim Native status, citing a grandmother who was born on a reservation.
Councilor Greg Alexander said Ripley's announcement contradicts Hartman's previous claim in 2020 to have become the first Indigenous member elected to Gladstone City Council, since Ripley took office two years earlier.
Ripley said he has identified as Caucasian on official government documentation due to his family's other racial identifiers. He said that he hadn't previously discussed his Native heritage because he didn't want to use it for political advantage.
"Complaining about this stuff is getting so old; I've never complained about my heritage," Ripley said. "I don't use my heritage as a leverage tool or a commodity."
Hartman criticized Ripley for only now bringing up his heritage in an apparent effort to gain "clout" in the discussion on land acknowledgments.
"You of all people, if you are Native American, should see the honor in this," Hartman told Ripley.
Telling Hartman to "get over it," Ripley has since stood by his statements from the council meeting, while Hartman said she was disappointed in herself for her behavior later in the meeting.
"I am disappointed in myself for losing my temper, but if we can normalize racism and ignorance, we can normalize marginalized people losing their composure," Hartman said after the meeting.
Councilor Matt Tracy said that land acknowledgments shouldn't be concerning since governmental bodies officially acknowledge many other types of events and facts. Tracy sarcastically praised Mayor Tammy Stempel's habit of announcing obscure holidays and suggested no harm could come from an acknowledgment honoring Native people who previously inhabited Gladstone.
"I've sat through meeting after meeting where we have honored Happy Bouncing Ball Day, Happy Cupcake Day, ad nauseum, in our live meetings, and I appreciate that, mayor," Tracy said.
Stempel said she was glad of Tracy's reminder to celebrate holidays at council meetings, promising to return to her habit of announcing special holidays, but she said that a Native land acknowledgment was different, requiring an official resolution from the city. Hartman agreed that the land acknowledgment shouldn't be compared with holiday celebrations and she likened it more to the city's practice to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before each meeting.
Ripley said that he was embarrassed to have his Native heritage associated with a call for land acknowledgments and was "offended" by the suggestion.
"Nobody in my family whines about where they came from," he said.
Hartman said that no one is "whining" in requesting a land acknowledgment.
"I'm not sitting here and saying it's embarrassing that you show up in pajamas to the council meeting; I'm not sitting here and saying it's embarrassing that you choose to scarf pizza down on camera," Hartman said, before the mayor said, "That's enough; we're done."
Ripley has eaten pizza and worn slippers during city meetings, but he said he's not embarrassed to do so. Hartman was only able to say a few more words before city officials adjourned the meeting.
"This is talking about people who still live here; he can say it's embarrassing that I want to bring honor to the Indigenous people," Hartman said before Stempel called for the adjournment of the meeting.
Hartman said the abrupt end of the meeting and the City Council's opposition to the land acknowledgment "felt personal" due to her Indigenous status. While she thinks Gladstone's elected officials are not willing to listen to her, she's still hopeful that they will listen to growing calls from other elected officials across Oregon.
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