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2022 – A safe place to land

The Chief Seattle Club (CSC) is a Native-run housing and social services agency dedicated to the physical and spiritual support of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Guided by Executive Director Derrick Belgarde, MPA ’13, ’15, CSC embraces the Indigenous cultures, languages ​​and traditions of its members as a primary method of healing and transformation.

Belgarde started his career at CSC as a program manager in 2015, when the club had 10 employees. He became assistant manager in 2017 and since becoming general manager in 2021, he now manages over 80 team members.

Every service at CSC is culturally appropriate and responsive to the marginalized Indigenous community. Among its many programs, CSC focuses on homelessness, permanent housing solutions, domestic violence and sexual assault support, legal services, Indigenous art skills training, and reintegration assistance. for people recently released from prison.

After earning his associate degree, Belgarde chose to transfer to Seattle University, knowing he wanted to dedicate his career to nonprofit work and social justice. SU was the right fit because of its mission to educate the whole person. “It’s not just about building careers, it’s also about social justice and building a humane and just world,” says Belgarde, who remains active with the university as an alumnus. , serving on the Dean’s Board of the College of Arts and Sciences and supporting the Indigenous Peoples Institute.

more than home

In February 2022, CSC reached an important milestone by opening its first affordable housing building in Pioneer Square named a?ál?al, “house” in the Lushootseed language.

Belgarde explains that CSC’s historic housing complex, made up of 80 studios, took a lot of perseverance. The fact that few seemed to believe in their vision didn’t stop them as Belgarde and his predecessor refused to take no for an answer.

“We kept going and had a hell of a fundraising campaign that raised a lot of money. We’ve done a good job of marketing Indigenous disparity and Indigenous issues that have been overlooked for decades and pushing it on [both] public agenda and mindset,” he says.

An enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians of Oregon and the Chippewa-Cree of Rocky Boy Montana, Belgarde says, “Native Americans are the least likely to get support services from state offices, government offices, or getting housing assistance, food stamps, etc.” He attributes this to established administrative processes. “Administration is like a science now – it may make sense to westernized thinkers, but westernized, colonized systems have an impact on the well-being of Native Americans.”

As noted on the CSC website, Native Americans face the highest rate of poverty of any racial group in King County. Of King County’s 12,000 homeless, more than 15% are American Indian or Alaska Native. Belgarde explains why there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to providing resources and support for the homeless.

“The streets eat people alive,” Belgarde says. “Our Indigenous community has been through so much over the past 500 years that PTSD is out of this world. The trauma is simply unimaginable and our Indigenous community, which is hurting the most, is not going to reach out to non-Indigenous suppliers.

Some established approaches to addressing homelessness – such as providing a fixed number of beds in a shelter and bringing people in – “don’t take Indigenous culture into account”.

“The natives don’t go to a shelter” where they are alone among a large group, Belgarde explains. “They are not going to feel safe or welcomed. They will feel threatened…disrespected and that their culture is disrespected by everything they see in the shelter.

To access “those hard-to-reach communities like mine, you have to offer specific services. It requires a place where you can build trust, friendships and relationships, and then you start working on healing,” Belgarde explains.

Heal from within

In an effort to provide trauma-informed, healing, safety and community-focused services, CSC launched its first Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault program in 2020.

Although there were efforts by external providers offering free support to CSC, it was difficult to create change due to challenges in dealing with chronically homeless members who identify as women. When it comes to offering support in this area, Belgarde notes that it is an entirely different intersectionality.

“When you’re working with someone who’s chronically on the streets, every meeting you have is going to be like a first meeting,” he says.

“Having seen our women arrive at CSC battered and bruised,” Belgarde and her staff knew they had to develop their own services, despite the problem of victims refusing to speak out for fear of reprisal from the abuser. They understood that the best approach was to hire someone internally with an understanding of chronic homelessness and relationship building.

“That’s what we really need, because women on the streets – not just those in the Aboriginal community, but all women living on the streets – are more frequently sexually and physically assaulted, often by their own partner. And typically, victims feel like they have no choice but to stay with these partners because they provide protection from random assaults.

The launch of this new program at the start of the pandemic prevented the full use of the model developed by CSC, but Belgarde hopes that will change once the pandemic is over.

Part of what sustains Belgarde’s inspiration is witnessing the transformation of CSC members, individuals who come in as “rough off the streets”, homeless for so long they have become withdrawn, dissociated and unable to speak in coherent sentences. He sees them begin to flourish after entering CSC’s shelter or long-term placement facility. There they can talk with other aboriginal people and the layers slowly unravel bringing people together and creating a community, making them feel a sense of belonging and being cared for and being cared for. love them.

All of this motivates Belgarde, who was recently named one of nine members of Seattle City Council’s first Native Advisory Council.

“Even though they are suffering… when I see my people, there is a part of me that is mesmerized by their strength and their humor,” he says. “We will continue to build housing and we will stabilize our community. It happens. It’s just a matter of when.”

Read more stories like this in the Fall/Winter 2022-23 edition of Seattle University Magazine.