Prospects look dim in Daybreak Star's recovery

Daybreak Star has only raised $7,060 toward its goal of $90,000 in 90 days to stay afloat. 

The figures were revealed at a board meeting on Nov. 4 at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center (3801 W. Government Way). 

As the board members — three in person and four by conference call — went over the numbers, board member Casey Sixkiller said his company would donate $5,000, bringing the total up to $12,060. 

As the Queen Anne & Magnolia News website reported on Oct. 24, the United Indians of All Tribes (UIATF) center is $318,000 in debt. 

Many of the board members had been in talks with tribes across the countries asking for donations up to $150,000. Many board members were confident the money would come through, but whether Daybreak Star’s doors would stay open in the meantime was up for discussion.  

A bell that can’t be ‘unrung’

At the annual board meeting, the board approved a budget that resulted in big cuts to budget and staff, effective Nov. 1. Now, Daybreak Star has contracted events with customers using its facilities and does not have enough staff to work the events. 

Also, Daybreak Star’s computer system recently got a virus that will take between $1,000 and $2,000 to repair, “which we don’t have,” Longearth told the board. 

“At this point, we’re just floundering,” Longearth said. “What we have come in have just been Band-Aids that have just literally kept the lights on.”

The latest funding helped the center get its trash cans, gas card, phone and Internet back — all of which were recently declined or repossessed. 

“We’re getting pretty close to having to close our doors to people while we get through this,” Longearth said. 

The time was drawing near for program managers to start looking for other nonprofits that could take Daybreak Star’s programs under their wings if the center were to close, Longearth said.

“This would be removing us as a fiscal sponsor from these programs so UIATF would be losing these programs,” Longearth said. “Our concern is once we ring that bell, it cannot be unrung.”

When Allen suggested program managers look for funding sources, the managers — who made up about half of the audience — did not look happy. 

Yolanda Spencer, program manager for WIA Native Workforce Service program, got on the phone to talk with the Daybreak Starboard members. She explained that she’d been looking for funding, but because of the current situation, she couldn’t find any. 

“It’s not like we haven’t been looking or doing our job [to look], on top of our [regular] job duties,” she said. 

Department of Corrections program manager Winona Stevens is the sole staff member in her department. She has been working six days a week since she was hired in June. She serves 900 Native inmates throughout Washington state. 

Stevens said she has cried with her coworkers over the situation: “We cried because we’re so dedicated to this work, and we love United Indians. We’re afraid.”

After the employees expressed their frustration with the board, Sixkiller said the board and employees couldn’t put their problems on the table and create a barrier to finding solutions. 

“I hear the pressure everyone is under, and I understand what you guys are doing is impossible,” he said. 

Allen echoed the sentiment, saying, “We can’t spend a lot on energy on what we should have done because we are where we are. We’re going to have to regroup and keep even-keel as best we can.” 

In need of ‘clear leadership’

As discussed at the previous annual board meeting, the board is hoping to reconfigure and create a new board. Sixkiller went over the bylaws, and the group spoke about reducing the size of the board and adding an official participation requirement. 

“We want [the board] to be active and engaged,” Sixkiller said. “And if they’re not, we want a way to get them off [the board] to replace them.” 

There had also been talk of creating a national leadership council that would act as advisors to the board. Sixkiller recommended holding off on those additional board changes since there was already a lot of restructuring. The board plans to reach out to former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck and former state Sen. Claudia Kauffman to invite them to join the board, now that election season is over. Steinbrueck and Kauffman would be good additions to the board, Sixkilller said, both for their expertise and their connections throughout Seattle. The goal with the additions was to create “as much of a well-rounded board as possible,” he said. 

The board has struggled with leadership, especially as things have become increasing more challenging. It’s embarrassing, board member Fern Renville said, when people ask what the board president thinks about things and there is no real active president. 

During the meeting, the board appointed Jeff Smith as the new president, to serve the former president’s term. 

“For now, we just need some clear leadership and a clear board,” board chair W. Ron Allen said. “I appreciate you doing this, [Jeff]. We all have to step up in our own way.” 

Smith was also hoping to plan a Native art show for the end of November or December, where local Native people could donate art to be sold to the public, with proceeds going to help Daybreak Star. 

Revnilleagreed with Allen: “It’s important to remember we’re not here for our own purposes. We’re here to keep this agency alive.”

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