A few years from now, Pioneer Square will look a little different: Chief Seattle Club is expanding its site, and the nonprofit serving homeless and low-income American Indians and Alaskan Natives is planning an authentic Native building where the Lazarus Center is now.
For the $25-28 million project, Chief Seattle Club plans to demolish the current site—located at 416 2nd Avenue—for a structure that will "look and feel like a Native building," said Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi, Chief Seattle Club's executive director. The site will hold at least 80 units of low-income housing, commercial and office space, and a satellite clinic for the Seattle Indian Health Board, she said.
Several elected officials and candidates—city attorney and mayoral candidates, deputy mayors, and representatives from council member Sally Bagshaw's office—attended Chief Seattle Club's annual fundraising luncheon on Thursday. Seattle city council member Debora Juarez, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, received a standing ovation after a moving speech, crediting the Native American community with where she is now.
"I am in Indian country. This is Indian country, right?" Juarez said. "I could not have done it without Indian country. I will continue to need you. ... We belong to each other. I am the wildest dreams of my ancestors, and so are you."
Echohawk-Hayashi spoke to PubliCola before the event about the challenges for her community, addressing homelessness, and what changes she wants to see moving forward.
What do you think are the most pressing needs for Native Americans in Seattle right now?
Number one for us is housing. I've met with both our mayoral candidates and have heard really good things from both of them saying they want to encourage low-income housing and the accessibility for us getting it done quickly. I think that is a key factor. We have a site where we're going to be building. It just takes time. So I think that we need quick action with a way to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy.
The other thing is just noticing Native people. One thing that really deeply concerns me is that this city does not feel like a Native city in the way that it should. We are a city that is named after a chief ...we have this amazing history. It's not just about Native people. When we see that Native people in culture or art or profiled, we just do better for everyone. It really does bring me a lot of sadness when we know Native people are not really profiled well in the tourist industry. So that's something that we can work on.
What are ways to improve that visibility?
Definitely Native spaces, encouraging the growth of Native organizations. In Pioneer Square, we'll be building a Native building. It's going to look and feel like a Native building, and that's going to be important. The other thing we can do is really think about, what does it mean to preserve Native culture in the city? We have all kinds of historical preservation boards...but we don't have anything that focuses on Native people. That's BS.
In Vancouver you see Native art everywhere. They start their city council meetings recognizing that we're in a Native place. I think that could be incredible. ...There's just a tremendous amount of work that we could do encourage a better representation of Native people in the city.
How are you feeling about the mayoral candidates?
I can't endorse anyone. It's really hard. They're both really good candidates. They get it, they understand that we need to address the race issue we have in the city if we're going to address homelessness. It's not just Native people. People of color are more likely to be homeless in the city. If we don't address it from that angle, then we're missing something huge.
And thoughts on the city attorney's race? (She spoke at Scott Lindsay's launch party but can't endorse anyone.)
Pete has been a strong supporter of the Chief Seattle Club. He has been a really good friend of the Chief Seattle Club over the years ... so I really appreciate his work. The reason I really appreciate Scott and got to know him—I would come into my office, and he would already be there. He was taking action, he was showing up in a really positive way for us. I owe him a debt of gratitude because of the work he did with our population.
I would say that both of them understand that Native people need to have some specific cultural help and focus. I would also hope that both of them would consider challenging I-200 (a voter-approved 1998 initiative that bans public institutions from giving preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity, and sex). I think I-200 holds us back.
You just got appointed to help oversee the Seattle Police Department on the Community Police Commission. What do you think your role will be on the body?
I have a lot of day-to-day experience with SPD because of our agency. I have had a lot of interactions with them over the years. I also have family members who are tribal police. I hope that I'll bring some balance. I am not an 'F the police' kind of person. I think that we have to find ways to respect and to honor their profession, and also to provide training, to provide perspectives.
I'm going to really, really be pushing for more deescalation training because I know how that works in the human service agency. One week a year is not going to do it. It has to be a constant thing in your mind. ... I'll be pushing for that and really helping to build bridges and also to hold people accountable. When there is injustice, we have to speak out, and we have to talk about it and really hold SPD to accountability for equitable practices across the board.
Anything in the budget stuck out as problematic that you want to see change?
More money for homelessness and housing. I'm really excited about the navigation teams and the work they're doing with sweeps. I'm not excited about sweeps, I'll say that. I'm excited that that group of people are serving that population, and I know they're a good group. I'm excited that we have that extra money in the budget, but I don't think that's enough. If we're going to solve our unsanctioned encampment issue, we'd have to throw way more millions of dollars at it. So I wonder sometimes, is it worth it for us to be out there doing that? Is there another solution that we can come up with and think out of the box?
I'm glad that we have a navigation team process. I think it's part of the evolution of us trying to figure things out. But I get concerned about it at the same time—I don't know if it's that effective. I know a lot of Native people, they get swept one day and they do not take the officer to go to housing or to shelter somewhere. they don't feel good in those shelters. They'll just go back outside. They'll come to our organization and say, "You got a tent for me? I'm going back outside. They took my tent."
What do you think needs to change about unsanctioned encampments and sweeps?
We need to look at our population there. A lot of them are people of color. A lot of them feel very disconnected from mainstream organizations, a lot of them are chronically homeless. It's going to take multiple approaches...The navigation team probably always needs to keep going. We're going to have this problem for a long time. But what other kind of solutions can we come up with? Can we come up with more culturally competent services? Can we understand that some folks are going to need to have a lot more time to think about moving out, a lot more relationship building?
Has anyone asked you to run for office before, and have you thought about it?
People have asked me. I don't know, I'm just keeping that door out there. I have two little kids, so I want to be able to take care of them and see them occasionally. I have a very supportive family...so I'm keeping those doors open. I'm too much of a...I just like to keep people happy, so I don't know if I'd be a good politician. But I'm learning. In this job you have to make tough decisions.
If you were to run, would it be city council?
Probably city council yeah, maybe state representative. There's no one in this city, I would say, that loves Seattle as much as I do. I love it. I came from rural Alaska to this city and just fell in love when I was 16. I moved here after high school. I think that if I think about running for office, I'd want to be able to run for something locally here in Seattle.
Seems like it would be another great way to improve visibility.
Yeah. I'm so grateful for Debora Juarez and her incredible leadership, her very long history of working in Indian country and coming in representing District 5. I'm in District 5, so I just feel grateful—when my kids see a representation of a Native woman in leadership, it just gives me goosebumps to think about that. Seriously it's something that I never saw when I was growing up. So it means a lot. It means that we're seeing some really astounding newness in that city council. She brings something that no one else could've brought.