Banding together for Indigenous people
Through growing up in Alaska and touring with their band, Portugal. The Man, members Zach Carothers and John Gourley have become more aware of the plight of Indigenous people around the world.
And, they are doing something about it, officially launching their PTM Foundation and emphasizing the stories of Indigenous people while working on universal issues of human rights, community health and the environment.
They have time these days since the Grammy Award-winning band that usually tours constantly has been (happily) staying at home in Portland because of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown of live concerts throughout the country and world. Even work on a new album has been put on hold.
Gourley and Carothers have each bought homes on the Sandy River in Troutdale, and the band has built a studio in Gourley's home. In the meantime, Carothers and his girlfriend and stepkids have been living in a tent on their property — literally — as they remodel their home for the next year.
"We're soaking it in, and I gotta say it's been amazing," Carothers said. "We're super concerned about the pandemic and health and safety of everyone, especially elders, and the economy, which is whacked.
"But, quarantine, I love it. We're all catching up with wives and kids, everybody's getting sleep. We're remodeling a house, and I'm a busybody. I got a bandanna around my neck, and I'm covered in dirt all day. We're learning how to grow food and everything. I'm happy as a clam."
In a way, he's inspired by the Indigenous people near and dear to his heart. "Connecting with land and place where you're at," Carothers added. "This whole thing has shifted people's perspectives, we've found a lot of things that are right 'there.'"
In recent years, the band's music has been inspired by Indigenous people, and Carothers said they have begun most concerts with a "land acknowledgement" shout-out for Indigenous people, from the United States to Brazil to Australia.
And, now, thanks to the efforts of the band, foundation director Logan Lynn, advisory people and a board of directors, Portugal. The Man has stepped up its fight to be a supporter for Indigenous people and oft-neglected voices.
"It gives us a reason ... you figure out what you're doing things for," Carothers said. "We've worked our whole lives for what? We've never really cared about money, and didn't have much for a long time, then we had a hit ('Feel It Still') and had some. But, we don't want to do things for that."
The band has been into "causes" before, but bolstering Indigenous people has hit home.
"A lot of this project is not just about charity and the struggle, but it's a partnership," Carothers said. "It's about elevating voices. Listening to stories."
Their compassion began in Wasilla, Alaska, where they lived among Native Alaskans, and galvanized on a trip to Australia where they skipped out on a television appearance because of disrespect shown Aboriginal people by the government.
In Brazil, they brought Guarani people on stage. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, they brought the Winnebago and Omaha people together. In Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year, many tribes were represented at an event for missing and murdered Indigenous women, and they honored Gourley and Carothers with face paintings.
Even back in January 2018, the band accepted a Grammy for "Feel It Still" and gave a shout-out to "Shishmaref," a coastal Alaskan town inhabitated by mostly Natives and good friend Dennis Davis.
At a land acknowledgement in Red Rocks, Colorado, the band met Walt Pourier, a Lakota man who runs Stronghold Society, which builds skateparks on reservations, and now "that's my thing, I'm so into it," Carothers said. It brings back memories for him of lobbying then-Mayor Sarah Palin — the future Alaskan governor and vice presidential candidate — to build a skatepark in Wasilla.
It's all about recognition and fostering discussions and actions.
"So many places when touring, it's hard to see the (Indigenous) people. You see the names of rivers and cities, but we know these folks are out there, and a lot of people don't think they are," Carothers said.
The PTM Foundation's emphasis on Indigenous people, and the movement for land acknowledgement and awareness, "doesn't feel like it's political — it's human rights. You may not know about politics and government, but you do know there were people there before you.
"We can do something about what happens now and in 2021," he added. "That's the point. We can shine a light on these things, respect them, learn from them."
Locally, Carothers said he has been working with city officials on a city of Portland land acknowledgement.
He encourages others to become involved to raise Indigenous voices.
"You don't have to be woke — there's a lot of pretension in activism," he said. "Take it from me, you don't have to be smart about these things."
Said Gourley: "We know Indigenous peoples face persistent and enduring challenges to their communities, their lands, and their basic human rights, with extremely limited support from the government as well as the broad spectrum of philanthropic institutions. This is wrong, and our band has decided to do something about it."
For more: www.ptmfoundation.org.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.