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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Potlatch Fund Helps Change Lives in Northwest
by Richard Walker - Indian Country Today Media Netwotk

The Potlatch Fund awarded $305,042 in grants this year to support community building, Native arts, language preservation and education, and participation in the Canoe Journey.

Grants ranged in size from $1,300 to $5,000. No matter the size, each made a big difference to the recipient.

Among this year’s recipients, the Yakama Nation Economic Development Department is using its grant to help support a foster and relative care program that provides cultural classes and Native food-gathering workshops. The Cowlitz Tribe Youth Board’s grant is supporting leadership training for 60-80 youth.

Suquamish artist Betty Pasco’s grant is helping to support her cedar weaving project, which will result in a traditional cedar-fiber sail for a canoe. Tsimshian artist David Robert Boxley’s grant is supporting the carving of a red-cedar totem pole, which will also serve as a teaching tool for youth and community members interested in Northwest Native carving and culture.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Culture and Heritage Department is using its grant to support a program that translates materials into its Ichishkiin language, for its full-immersion language pre-school. The Salish School of Spokane is creating illustrated children's books and training Native youth to act as literacy mentors for Native children.

There are more – 93 recipients in total, in fact. The total amount awarded is a record for the organization, Potlatch Fund executive director Dana Arviso, Dine’, said.

Samish Nation general manager Leslie Eastwood said of the Samish Canoe Family’s grant, “We used it to cover travel costs on Canoe Journey, such as food for [pullers] and ground-crew breakfasts and lunches that were not supplied by host tribes and the days we were on our own for dinners.

“This helped us travel without worry about how we were going to be able to take care of our needs, and allowed us to also care [of] those on special diets, which typically costs a bit more.”

These success stories and more will be celebrated November 2 at the annual Potlatch Fund Gala, at the Tulalip Resort Hotel. The event is sold out.

The gala will include a celebration of Native art, cultural performances, and awards for leadership, philanthropy, and social innovation.

It’s as much a celebration of great work being done in Northwest Native American communities.

“We hear examples of what people are doing in our communities, and we see our role as raising the visibility of that work,” Arviso said.

The Potlatch Fund was developed in the spirit of the Northwest Coast potlatch system of wealth distribution – a way to build social relationships, celebrate culture, and meet community needs through gifting. The system of wealth distribution depends on reciprocity, and the Potlatch Fund enables people to participate in that tradition as well.

Proceeds from the gala and silent auction are used to fund the next year’s grants. More than 50 items were donated for the silent auction, many by Native artists who are past or present grant recipients. Fifty-one indigenous nations, companies and organizations are gala sponsors or table hosts, including Indian Country Today Media Network.

“Ten years ago, we made our first gala film for the Potlatch Fund as volunteers, because we recognized the importance of supporting such an amazing concept,” said Tracy Rector, Choctaw/Seminole, of Longhouse Media, a gala sponsor.

“Today, we are grantees. We benefit from [the Potlatch Fund’s] deep knowledge in how to sustain an organization and we are continuing to produce the gala videos each year as contractors. The circle of life and the sharing of traditional wealth is incredibly apparent in our relationship with the Potlatch Fund over the years."

According to, the Potlatch Fund was founded in 2002 by Tribal organizations and funders in response to a disparity in philanthropic funding for Native America, and to develop Native leadership and make the best use of Tribal resources. The Potlatch Fund serves Native communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

“The most exciting part of Potlatch Fund is the regional reach,” said Susan Balbas, Cherokee/Yaqui, executive director of the Tierra Madre Fund. “It is inspiring to feel a part of how other Native artists, organizations and tribes are improving lives in their part of Indian country. Social change work can be challenging, and it feeds our spirit to hear of people's commitments and positive impacts.”

Arviso said the Potlatch Fund has awarded more than copy.5 million in grants, conducted more than 225 training workshops, graduated 42 emerging leaders from a nonprofit-management and leadership training program, and honored numerous individuals and organizations for leadership and philanthropy.

Funding for the 2013 grants was provided by the following:

  • Community Building grants: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, two anonymous foundations, and donations from the 2012 gala.
  • Native Arts grants: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, two anonymous foundations, and proceeds from the 2012 gala silent auction.
  • Language Preservation and Education grants: Provided anonymously.
  • Canoe Journey grants: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an anonymous foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the OneFamily Foundation, and donations made to the Potlatch Fund and at the 2012 gala.
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