Many levels of government, private foundations and charities are handing out stimulus grants these days. An indigenous-led nonprofit serving the Pacific Northwest is carving a niche by offering grants specifically to help Indigenous communities and artists recover from the patchy effects of the pandemic.

On Monday, the Seattle-based Potlatch Fund began accepting applications for its new Resilience Fund. Potlatch executive director Cleora Hill-Scott said the fund has $ 1 million to distribute this year in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. There could be many grant recipients among tribal governments, non-profit organizations, and indigenous artists and performing groups, as the prices are set at $ 10,000 or $ 15,000.

“Right now it’s about helping as many people as possible, as quickly as possible,” Hill-Scott said in an interview. “Bring us your ideas. Bring us your dreams. We’re here to fund what you think will be most useful. “

Hill-Scott and his board decided last year to suspend their established grant programs focused on community building, Indigenous student education, language preservation and Indigenous arts. They first turned to the emergency response to COVID-19, then decided this year to focus exclusively on the new Potlatch Resiliency Fund. Its goals are to stimulate post-pandemic hope, build resilience and promote cultural revitalization.

Members of the Nez Perce tribe paddle the Snake River in a canoe they carved as part of a cultural and environmental learning project supported by the Potlatch Fund.

Courtesy of the Potlatch Fund /

Hill-Scott said his organization was inspired by another Seattle-area funder, billionaire MacKenzie Scott. The ex-wife of the Amazon founder has been making waves in philanthropic circles since last year by giving unrestricted multi-million dollar giveaways to hundreds of organizations and institutions.

“We have pivoted around the principles of community philanthropy, which enables communities to identify for themselves how best to care for their families and what will help them thrive,” said Hill-Scott, who did no connection to billionaire Scott.

Hill-Scott (Crow / Sioux / Pawnee) said she admired the other Scott’s ‘trust-based’ approach and added that she didn’t want grant recipients to have to model their programs around the parameters of the funder to be eligible for the money. Another goal Hill-Scott mentioned was the “decolonization of philanthropy,” which she saw as a return to the Coast Salish potlatch tradition of spreading around clan wealth through periodic giving ceremonies and social gatherings.

The restrictions on social gatherings during the pandemic have been tough on almost everyone, but Hill-Scott said the Indian country feels the pain particularly deeply because social ties play a key role in keeping tribal communities vibrant and the transmission of culture.

“Most of what we do is about socializing, is about coming together and celebrating,” Hill-Scott said.

As such, she expected that projects seeking funding to revitalize Indigenous cultural practices and ceremonies, music, arts, storytelling and languages ​​would be well received. Other examples of projects that could win funding include support services that encourage healthier living, ranging from physical and behavioral health to substance abuse treatment.

Hill-Scott described the effects of the pandemic as uneven between rural reservations and urban Indian communities. Some tribes need assistance with rent, food and health care, while others have these services fairly well under control. Pandemic control measures have led to long shutdowns of tribal casinos in the Northwest, which are a primary source of income for tribal education, economic development, health care and natural resource programs.

The latest analysis of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates by the Washington State Department of Health showed that Native Americans and Alaska Natives were hospitalized at a rate about 2.5 times higher than the white and Asian population. In Oregon and Washington, per capita case rates for Native Americans were about double the white and Asian population, but far below the inordinate toll of COVID-19 inflicted on Hispanic and Pacific Northwest Islander populations.

The new Potlatch Resiliency Fund was established through contributions from many donors, including well-known names in the tech world such as Microsoft, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The Seattle Foundation, the Northwest Area Foundation and the Disney Foundation are among others who have provided seed money. Hill-Scott said fundraising to raise the pot is underway.

The nonprofit Potlatch Fund was established in 2002 by tribal organizations and funders to address a disparity in philanthropy in which indigenous communities were neglected by granting foundations. In addition to providing grants, the nonprofit also serves as an educational resource and broker to help tribes and outside foundations build relationships in order to transfer funds to Indigenous communities.