In 2018, when Portland-based alt-rockers Portugal The Man won a Grammy for their massive hit, “Feel It Still,” they dedicated it to the Native youth in remote villages in their hometown of Alaska. Last October, the band was honored with the Legend Award at the Native American Music Awards, and this February, they earned the Public Sector Leadership Award by the National Congress of American Indians.
Now, the Alaska natives have used the last few months of lockdown to finalize the culmination of years of activism and advocacy, and on Thursday (July 16), Portugal The Man officially launched the PTM Foundation.
Through the foundation, the band will continue to advocate for human rights, community health and the environment, while also highlighting the stories of struggles of Indigenous Peoples.
“Our band has been engaging the community at our shows for years around a lot of issues, and that really just started to become part of the fabric of who we are over time,” says lead vocalist-guitarist John Gourley. “It got to the point where we were doing so many different things but without any organization to it. We knew that if we focused things a little bit better, it could make a difference.”
He adds that the ongoing pandemic “has really highlighted existing disparities between what Indigenous Peoples have available to them by way of resources, and how important it is that these be addressed.” To put it simply: “It’s an emergency.”
Zach Carothers, bassist-vocalist, believes that Portugal The Man is particularly well-equipped to use their platform to advocate for Indigenous Rights because they have witnessed firsthand the displacement of their neighbors in Alaska due to climate change or by just having their land taken.
“We’ve had the opportunity to learn from Indigenous Peoples all over the world about what those communities experience and are going through currently — and yeah, it’s urgent,” Carothers says. “These communities are all facing different challenges, depending on where they are located, but one thing is shared among most of the Tribes and Native Peoples we have engaged along the way, and that’s broad invisibility and erasure. People are not aware, and therefore they don’t care.”
For the past 18 months, the band has been developing the foundation’s organizational structure — which includes a director, board and community advisory board made up of Indigenous leaders — while partnering with Schaghticoke First Nations, the United Confederation of Taino People, The Skatepark Project, The Ally Coalition, Oregon Community Foundation and Rasmuson Foundation, among other community advisors.
As for funding, “all expenses are paid out of pocket by the band and management,” says Carothers. “100% of every dollar donated to PTM Foundation goes to our community grant programs.” Those grant programs will launch this week, and can be found under the Grant section of the PTM Foundation’s site.
Even in spite of “a long history of Indigenous Peoples not having a seat at the table when it comes to philanthropic funding,” Gourley insists that “Native Peoples continue to thrive in the face of generational trauma and inequity. Our goal is to highlight that magic and help play a role in meeting some of their basic funding needs. With PTM Foundation, we are committed to interrupting that history — and making a change for the people who need it most.”