United Indians of All Tribes Foundation (UIATF), an organization with its origins in activism, has a 51-year history of providing a variety of culturally responsive services and programming to Seattle and King County’s urban Native community. As a “hub for the Native community”, they provide thirteen social services that Leslie Haynes, the organization’s grants manager, describes as cradle to the grave services including doulas, developmental screening for young children to get them kindergarten ready, an indigenous focused preschool, a youth shelter for homeless youth, veterans services, services for those at risk for eviction, and an elders program. They also host dozens of events including an annual Powwow, Indigenous Peoples Day, and a reenactment of the takeover at Fort Lawton. Leslie says providing these services allows them to meet the needs of the Indigenous community. As an organization that is 90% people of color, governed by a board that is 100% Indigenous and has a senior leadership that is 100% Indigenous, Leslie says, “We are for, and by, and with the community all the way.”

When COVID hit, UIATF’s mission was immediately challenged. As a social service provider, community center, and cultural home for urban Indians, they had to quickly figure out how to serve their community in a virtual format. Knowing that most of the members of their community live on the other side of the digital divide, they immediately knew they needed to get hotspots, laptops, and even earbuds out to the people. About a month into the pandemic, Leslie says they conducted a survey, and the results were staggering. They learned that 30% of the families they serve did not have access to household essentials like soap and diapers and were already experiencing food insecurity. 40% of respondents had lost their jobs and another 10% couldn’t work because they did not have childcare. UIATF hit the ground running with the mindset, “No poverty, not on our watch.”  As a major employer of Indigenous people with a staff of nearly 90 employees, their efforts began with obtaining and utilizing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan funds to stabilize their staff so that they could continue to provide services. Known for being high touch rather than high tech, UIATF worked hard to adapt formats to serve their communities whether it was flipping to a virtual format or flipping their long running preschool into a childcare center for essential workers. Leslie says they did everything they could to help uplift their beloved community during this challenging time.

To prevent a lapse in providing essential services, UIATF, sought and received almost 40 grants in emergency funding, ranging from general support from organizations like First Nations Development Institute and NDN Collective to childcare subsidies from the Seattle Foundation and All in Washington to large scale programs to fight food insecurity from the CARES Act dollars administered by King County, United Way, and the City of Seattle. Leslie says the $850,000 secured through the CARES Act allowed them to address digital equity, assist with eviction prevention and utilities, provide grocery vouchers, and start a new food delivery service that utilized trusted staff members and experienced caseworkers who took the time to check-in with families and problem solve around needed resources. In addition to addressing the issue of food insecurity, the food program addressed the cultural isolation that the indigenous community was experiencing. They provided comfort food like wild rice and salmon, so their community could eat, smell, taste, and have things around, keeping them connected their culture.

When it comes to CARES Act fund distribution, Leslie says that while there were challenges with the administration process – getting the money out in an incredibly short amount of time while balancing equity with accountability – government employees and elected officials did a good job reaching out to nonprofits and asking, what do you need, how do you need it, and what would be helpful. She says she also found some emergency grant application processes to be more user-friendly, highlighting organizations like the Washington State Arts Commission, School’s Out Washington, All In Washington, and Seattle Foundation, who she says did a beautiful job using panels of community leaders to make decisions as opposed to a laborious process that required logic models and objectives. In addition to using simplified online portals to make grants more easily accessible, they asked good questions that were holistic in nature and allowed UIATF to tell their own story. Their revised processes give her hope that we can shift toward more trust-based philanthropy.

As we move into this next phase of recovery, Leslie says we can lean in differently now that we have a foundation. “Government needs community-based organizations. The public sector and businesses were not going to come to the rescue. They played their part, but it’s the nonprofits on the front lines staffing the food banks, providing the access to public services…so when ARPA dollars hit, it’s a question of how we best connect with our communities and then uplift and amplify what their needs and experiences are.”

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