Cover Story: Urban Indians invisible in Portland

"On Margo Guajardo's right arm is the tattoo "N8ive Pride." It may be callous to ask what she has to be proud of. Callous, but not entirely inappropriate.

By traditional standards, Margo's own life story has not been one of triumph. Twenty years old, she has two kids, one of whom was fathered by Margo's uncle. She is unemployed, unmarried and largely unmoored. She does not know much about her biological mother, other than that she was once a prostitute. She has no relationship with her father. She has a history of drug and alcohol addiction.

And she has $103 in her bank account.

At times, it appears Margo's existence is as fragile as the plastic hairclips that hold open the burgundy curtains on the front window of her outer Southeast Portland home.

But Margo, a member of the Mnicoujou band of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe (also known as the Lakota), does have reason to be proud.

As a Native American, Margo belongs to Portland's most disenfranchised minority, one whose members face challenges that dwarf the hurdles confronting Portland's other marginalized communities.

While media and political pressure is focused yet again this week on the rights of illegal immigrants, her story is a reminder of a different minority that receives far less attention.

It's a story that's 400 years old, not 40. And it's a story that is often hidden under a shroud of obscurity as dangerous and as seemingly benign as a warm blanket infected with small pox.

"The U.S. worries more about Mexican people being here illegally," says Margo, whose biological father was Mexican. "You hear more about that because it's OK to talk about."

By several measures, the Native American experience in Portland stinks."

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Urban Indian (Willamette Week 6/20)