On August 9th, we observe the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. Established by the United Nations, this significant event not only recognizes the diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Indigenous peoples but also shines a light on the challenges they face - from preserving their identities and rights to advancing their overall well-being.
In Seattle, the United Way of King County (UWKC) is confronting these issues by partnering with our local Indigenous communities. Notably, the Indigenous people constitute about one percent of King County's population, yet they disproportionately represent 15 percent of the county's homeless population and 18.6 percent of those living in poverty.
In the spirit of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples UWKC responded to these pressing issues with Indigenous Communities Fund in 2020. This fund, established in 2020, is focused on tackling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and other systemic issues faced by Indigenous communities. A total of $4 million has been allocated over three years, with an additional $1 million slated for this fiscal year, allowing the communities themselves to manage and distribute resources where they are most needed.
The Indigenous staff at UWKC were instrumental in establishing the Indigenous Communities Fund, exemplifying the significant impact that can be achieved when individuals unite for a common purpose. Central to UWKC's mission is the amplification of local Indigenous groups' voices, coupled with the celebration of their achievements and resilience. Through its website and social media platforms, UWKC regularly spotlights the work of Indigenous communities. Notably, it recently featured an Indigenous youth theater group that, after over three decades, celebrated the acquisition of its first-ever performance studio. Furthermore, UWKC showcased the work of an Indigenous housing and human services agency that courageously addressed food scarcity in its region by inaugurating a café. These stories embody the endeavors UWKC proudly supports and enthusiastically shares.
“The beauty of the Indigenous Communities Fund is the trust,” said Jessica Juarez-Wagner, Program Manager of the Potlatch Fund, one of a dozen groups that comprise the Indigenous Communities Fund. “Indigenous communities that have been here and continue to be here have the knowledge to do what’s right for their own communities. Having such a large and open investment into the community has not only enabled people to cross the finish lines that they had for each of their own organizations but it has given us, as a collective, space to grow and to share.”
The essence of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples is about acknowledging and safeguarding the rights of Indigenous communities, a principle at the heart of UWKC's work. By offering support and granting autonomy over the resources, UWKC seeks to help Indigenous communities tackle their unique challenges. UWKC's work isn't in isolation - it fits into the larger framework of United Way Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to the promotion of health, education, and financial stability for everyone, everywhere. The work done by UWKC reflects this mission, manifesting the true spirit of being united in purpose.
As we mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, let's not forget the role we can play in supporting this important cause. You can join the efforts of the United Way of King County, and by extension, United Way Worldwide. By raising awareness of these critical issues, your support can foster real and lasting change. Together, we can ensure the rights of Indigenous people are upheld, their voices are amplified, and their communities are fortified.
You can join us in our shared commitment to a more equitable and inclusive world by connecting with your local United Way.