The Stronghold: A beacon of hope and transformation in Oregon's indigenous communities


In an act of decolonization, Sarah Miller, from Chiloquin, Oregon, has led a remarkable journey of empowerment and cultural reclamation. A pivotal moment in this transformative process occurred when a closed United Methodist Church in Chiloquin became the canvas for a new vision.

The closed church, situated near the tribal headquarters of the Klamath tribe, presented an opportunity for Miller and her team. Recognizing the potential to create a space that honors indigenous traditions and serves the community, they embarked on a mission to convert the church into a beacon of cultural revitalization.

The story begins in 2020, when the Crater Lake District Superintendent, Rev. John Tucker, contacted Rev Dr. Allen Buck of Great Spirit Church in Portland about the closed church in Chiloquin. The church's closure presented an opportunity to serve the Klamath people, and Great Spirit was open to taking on that responsibility. 

Miller, a friend of Buck’s and someone whom he had collaborated with in Portland, was already living in Chiloquin and had a vision for a culturally responsive peer support network. Miller connected with tribal counselors, city councilors, and members of the Klamath tribe to discuss the possibilities for the church building. 

The timing seemed serendipitous, as Miller had also reached out to Rev. Dan Wilson-Fey, (now retired) treasurer of the Oregon Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church, seeking support. Great Spirit agreed to become the fiscal sponsor for Miller's vision, and the name “The Stronghold”, was given to the project.

The partnership between Great Spirit and The Stronghold proved transformative. Great Spirit provided administrative support, acted as the fiscal sponsor, and helped secure grants for The Stronghold. The funds obtained allowed The Stronghold to renovate the building, provide transitional housing for Native individuals in need, and offer various support services such as a food pantry, clothing closet, and various cultural events.

Over the course of two years, The Stronghold flourished and achieved its goal of becoming a certified 501(c)(3) organization. It no longer required Great Spirit to act as a fiscal sponsor but still maintained a collaborative relationship. Currently, the two entities are working on signing a lease agreement that will enable The Stronghold to continue its vital work.

Miller, now the executive director of The Stronghold, shared the organization's mission of providing culturally responsive peer support services, transitional housing, crisis response, and various resources for Native individuals who identify as displaced. 

The Stronghold, staffed by enrolled members or descendants of federally-recognized tribes, has been able to make a significant impact on the lives of those they serve. Juanita Littleboy, a recent recipient of The Stronghold's services, spoke about how the organization provided her with a fresh start after experiencing homelessness. The Stronghold offered her a safe place to live, access to workshops, and support in her job search.

The Stronghold's reach extends beyond housing and support services. It actively engages with the community, responding to crises such as wildfires by partnering with organizations like UMCOR, as well as providing assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Buck acknowledges Great Spirit's role in supporting The Stronghold, he emphasizes that the true credit belongs to The Stronghold itself, Miller, and the lives they have touched. He encourages others to leverage their privileges to help groups and individuals in need, even if it doesn't involve taking on a closed church building.

As The Stronghold and Great Spirit continue to collaborate and follow the guiding spirit, they exemplify the importance of partnership, cultural responsiveness, and using available resources to make a positive difference in the lives of indigenous communities and beyond.