Patricia Davis Gibson ’92: Portland’s First Tribal Liaison

In August, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced he was appointing her as the first tribal liaison for the city.

Patricia Davis Gibson '92 Patricia Davis Gibson ’92

In August, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced his appointment of Patricia Davis Gibson ’92 as the first tribal liaison for the city. The primary responsibilities of the position are to assist the city council and all city bureaus to establish and strengthen relationships with tribal nations, tribal officials and staff, and urban Indian leadership and communities.

Gibson, who also oversees American Indian and Alaska Native policy development, said her first priority is to “do a lot of outreach and listening to the needs of Native American tribal governments and the urban Indian population.” She has already reached out to four Tribes that have expressed a desire to see a tribal internship program with the city. Based on her many years of experience in Indian Country, she knows Native American issues will cover a broad spectrum and include matters such as homelessness, natural resources, cultural resources, consultation and coordination, and access to services.

Gibson is optimistic. “Everyone at the city has been welcoming and inviting. The creation of this position is the result of the efforts of many people from the mayor’s office who coordinated with interested parties such as the Institute for Tribal Government Relations, the Office of Government Relations, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.”

An enrolled member of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, Gibson grew up in Wyoming, near the Wind River Indian Reservation and later the Crow Nation and Southern Ute Indian Tribe. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Fort Lewis College, where she created her own major in Indian behavioral studies and prelaw. It was there, while working on the college newspaper with other Native American students, that Gibson was exposed to Native American treaty rights relating to land, health care, education, hunting, fishing, gathering, water law, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

She chose to pursue her JD at Lewis & Clark Law School because of the environmental law program and classes offered in federal Indian law. The school proved to be a good fit, although she found the program to be challenging in some unexpected ways. “Law is taught in a very linear fashion,” she observed. “Studies have shown that Native Americans aren’t always linear learners. It was difficult to isolate the law into a structured format. For me personally, my thinking is like talking with the stars: the story follows a way not always obvious until you look to the sky and see the pattern.”

After graduating, Gibson worked as an Indian Child Welfare specialist, a criminal defense attorney, city judge, grant writer, consultant with the State of Oregon on juvenile justice issues, tribal attorney, and tribal court judge. Over the course of her career, Gibson has encountered nearly every legal issue that affects Indian law, including those related to archaeology, repatriation, cultural sites, corporate business, peace-giving court, tribal court development, housing, health, natural resources, intergovernmental agreements, law enforcement, taxation, criminal justice, and casinos development.

In 1997, the Oregon Commission for Women honored Gibson as a Woman of Achievement for her contributions to her profession, the community, and her family. Gibson has raised four children and said she considers them her greatest accomplishments. When she isn’t advocating for others, she spends her time kayaking with her husband, Kevin; writing children’s books; writing music with her son Andy; trying to keep up with her grandchildren, Caleb and Noah; arguing law with her sons JR and Chris; and creating art under the pseudonym Ty Davis.