Kelvin Frank, executive director of United Indians for All Tribes Foundation (UIATF), told members of the city council’s Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture committee that at one time in the organization’s four decade history, UIATF was the most powerful urban Indian organization in the country. “Everybody knew who United Indians was,” Frank said.
In mid-2012, outsiders began to sense UIATF’s power was waning. The organization faced a $400,000 deficit that caused it to cancel its annual powwow for the first time in almost 30 years.
In a briefing that lasted just over 10 minutes, Frank told committee members on Dec. 12 about UIATF’s struggles and successes. He also talked about his own soul-searching since he took on the post of executive director last May. “When I first got here,” he said, “I asked myself quite a number of times: ‘What am I doing here? Why am I here?’”
The 27th Annual Seafair Powwow was scheduled for July 2012, but when the organization couldn’t afford to cover the costs of the three-day cultural event, Frank canceled it (“No Powwow for Seafair this year,” RC, July 4, 2012).
“How can you carry a $106,000 event forward when you have a $400,000 deficit?” he said.
Even with its financial woes, Frank said the organization has opportunities for economic stability. UIATF plans to open a Northwest Native Canoe Center in South Lake Union and has submitted applications for funding. The center will display canoes carved as part of the Canoe Project, a collaboration with UIATF, Antioch University and Center for Wooden Boats (“Lake Union cultural project lets locals carve Native canoes, RC, Nov. 28, 2012). Speaking of the future center, Frank said, “I believe if we get this project off the ground, we’re going to be able to sustain this program, our entire organizations.”
The organization also runs other programs, he said, that continue to thrive, including children and family services, foster care and Indian child welfare.
Frank said financial stewardship is important because a lot of people depend upon UIATF. The organization serves roughly 4,000 Native American and Alaska Natives each year he said. Almost 46,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives live in King County, which means they are included in the UIATF’s service area, he said.
UIATF runs a program that supports Native Americans and Alaska Natives incarcerated by the state Department of Corrections, which he said is a national model. And Frank praised the Daybreak Star Cultural Center, begun by Bernie Whitebear, a Sin Aikst Indian who became a nationally known Native rights activist and is credited with bringing the first powwow to Seattle. The annual powwows have taken place at the center in Magnolia.
Frank said that as UIATF’s executive director, he’d often thought of Whitebear, the organization’s first leader. Whitebear was a visionary and ever since he died 12 years ago and travelled to “the spirit world,” UIATF has been rocked by turbulent times, he said.
“In the past eight months, it’s been pretty challenging,” Frank said. “But at the same time, I’m optimistic about the future of United Indians.”