An after-school program to lift up Indigenous students is still looking for a home months after Seattle Public Schools (SPS) canceled a standing arrangement to provide space at a school near Licton Springs.
The Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA) needs to find space to provide its educational offerings and sports programs. Normally, UNEA would start its work on Sept. 4, when the school year is set to begin. Despite efforts to work with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation and Seattle Public Schools, that does not look like it will happen, said Sarah Sense Wilson, executive director of UNEA.
“It’s creating some hardship on our organization because we’re not starting at a time when we need to be starting,” Sense Wilson said.
Part of the problem is the opacity of the efforts to secure new space for UNEA.
Sense Wilson received an email saying that city officials had come together to find a site for UNEA to continue its after-school program. But Sense Wilson had no idea the city was involved.
In an email dated Aug. 14, Sense Wilson said that she appreciated the effort to obtain a new space but was confused about how the city planned to do so without input from UNEA.
“We are dismayed that a decision regarding the adequacy of a ‘potential location’ was made unbeknownst to and without the consultation of our organization,” Sense Wilson said in the email addressed to Superintendent Denise Juneau, members of the City Council and others.
A spokesperson from Parks and Recreation said that the department was working with UNEA, and SPS spokesperson Tim Robinson said that Juneau was involved in talks around the search for a site and “is pleased that this possible solution would benefit youth in Seattle.”
Sense Wilson and others from UNEA had approached the Department of Parks and Recreation more than a month ago to talk about partnering with the city on a new space for UNEA, but the organization hadn’t heard back, Sense Wilson said.
The turmoil is another blow to the organization, a small nonprofit that aims to empower Native youth and the Native community through culturally relevant education and activities that center the Native experience.
That is critical to Native youth who do not see their experience consistently reflected in a predominately Eurocentric education system. They also face a significant achievement gap compared with their White peers, and have faced disproportionate discipline in schools across the country.
After years partnering with SPS as an “aligned organization,” SPS informed UNEA that it wasn’t meeting the criteria required for that designation. The status was important because it allowed UNEA access to space at the Robert Eagle Staff Middle School at no cost to run its after-school program and sports club for roughly 75 students.
UNEA has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the district’s decision to revoke its “aligned” status and is trying to get pro bono legal representation so that they can have their day in court.
The fight over the Clear Sky Native Youth Council program is about more than just space. The Native community values Licton Springs as a place of great spiritual importance, which is why the organization wants to return to Robert Eagle Staff Middle School.
In past years when they have had to hold the Clear Sky program in other locations, it was always with the intention of coming back to that site, Sense Wilson said.
“This is a clash of worldview,” Sense Wilson said. “Our traditional tribal cultural worldview connects us with land inherently and the history that’s again associated with space, land and the environment.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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