United Indian of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF), began more than 45 years ago to provide cultural and educational services that reconnect indigenous people in Puget Sound to their heritage. To help meet these goals, UIATF built Daybreak Star Cultural Center in what is now Discovery Park as a spiritual center for many urban Native Americans and the programs that serve them.
But UIATF has become one of a growing number of social and cultural agencies whose mounting debt jeopardizes its ability to fulfill its mission.
“It’s tough out there for a lot of nonprofits,” said Minty Longearth, UIATF interim director. “Native nonprofits are really going through it.”
In late October, UIATF put out a call for financial help, revealing that the foundation is in the throes of a financial crisis that “threatens our existence as an organization and our capacity to serve our urban American Indian and Alaska Native community.”
UIATF estimates it serves roughly 1,000 people a year.
UIATF faces a debt of at least $518,000. A strategic plan attached to the call makes several specific monetary requests: $188,000 to retire previous operating losses; $180,000 to restore lost staff and program capacity; and $150,000 to implement a sustainability plan, which includes partnering with local tourism companies and increasing event rentals at Daybreak Star.
The center is also reaching out to small donors. The Facebook page for Daybreak Star includes a recent fundraising post attempting to sell 50 T-shirts for $20 each. So far, 18 people have pledged to buy shirts that say “Keep the Vision Alive.”
The foundation took a major financial hit this summer with the loss of Head Start and Early Head Start, two early childhood development and education programs financially supported by the federal government.
The end of the programs cut UIATF’s budget in half, from $4.5 million to $2.2 million. Close to 150 students had attended both programs.
Financial struggles are nothing new for UIATF. In 2012, UIATF had to cancel its annual pow wow for the first time in 27 years (“No pow wow for Seafair this year,” RC, July 4, 2012.) However, the pow wow took place again in 2013.
UIATF grew out of an act of civil disobedience linked to the Native Civil Rights movement. In March 1970, close to 100 Native Americans and non-Native allies occupied Fort Lawton in Magnolia. The U.S. Army owned the property, which was deemed surplus, and Army officials had planned to sell some of it to reduce its acreage. Local Natives wanted to claim a portion of the land for a spiritual home.
Native American activist Bernie Whitebear led the occupation and in the face of confrontations with military police, Whitebear and others held their ground for months. The group named itself UIATF.
In November 1971, the city granted UIATF a 99-year lease on 20 acres of land in what was later named Discovery Park. Daybreak Star Cultural Center opened in the park in 1977.
Lawney Reyes, brother of Whitebear and co-designer of Daybreak Star, said the foundation’s money problems don’t bode well for the future of Daybreak.
“I would really be surprised if it survived another year. Or even six months,” said Reyes.
Reyes said that when Whitebear was UIATF CEO, his brother established contacts in Olympia and Washington, D.C., to ensure state and federal legislators would provide continued political and financial support for the center. Whitebear was a force that helped keep UIATF culturally relevant and fiscally viable, Reyes said.
Whitebear died in 2000.
After his brother’s death, the foundation struggled economically, Reyes said. He doesn’t know how UIATF will continue, “Unless a guy like Bill Gates came along,” he said.
Short of that, Reyes said the foundation’s crisis could spell the end of a fight his brother started almost 50 years ago.
“I don’t think anyone really knows what to do,” he said.