At the time of the 1970 Takeover, Bernie Whitebear, United Indians’ founder, conceived of an expansive vision for the future of Seattle’s Fort Lawton: reclaiming Native land to build a cultural center, an art gallery, and affordable housing for our community. 

While Bernie oversaw the execution of much of that vision during his lifetime, the dream of affordable housing remained deferred for decades.  Meanwhile, due to systemic inequalities facing American Indian and Alaska Native individuals in King County, AI/AN are seven times more likely to be homeless than other races.  And Native children in Seattle live in poverty at nearly three times that of the community at large.   

Excitingly, last week the Seattle City Council voted to begin the redevelopment of Fort Lawton into affordable housing units as the culmination of a 15-year dialogue with United Indians, Catholic Housing Services, Habitat for Humanity, and other community partners.

Mayor Jenny Durkan at the press conference.

Mayor Durkan and community members convened at Fort Lawton to commemorate this momentous occasion. Mayor Durkan said, “As I was driving over here I could not help but think about my friend Bernie Whitebear. What we’re doing today, it feels like it’s 15 years, but we’re standing on the shoulders of people who had the vision long before us.”

United Indians’ Executive Director Michael Tulee spoke as well, highlighting the growing problem of housing affordability in Seattle. “Year by year,” Dr. Tulee said, “our middle-income people are being pushed out further. In the last decade, home prices have increased by 60%. Fortunately, Mayor Durkan and the City of Seattle have seen this as something they needed to take on.”

Mayor Durkan signs legislation to begin the Fort Lawton Redevelopment Project

The new Fort Lawton Redevelopmentwill feature more than 238 mixed-income affordable housing units, including 85 supportive housing units for older adults who have experienced homelessness (including veterans), and 150 townhouses for families earning up to 60-80% of the median income. Along with housing, the Fort Lawton plan calls for increased parks and recreation space; and supportive services for veterans, people experiencing homelessness, and Elders. The Fort Lawton redevelopment will be an incredible opportunity for not only the Native community but for all of Seattle to address the city’s housing access and affordability challenges.

In 1970, Bernie Whitebear and other Native activists “reclaimed the land known as Fort Lawton in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery.” Since then, United Indians of All Tribes Foundation has been dedicated to providing social, cultural, and educational services that reconnect Indigenous people to their heritage. In collaboration with the City of Seattle, Catholic Housing Services, Habitat for Humanity, and other partners, we look forward to expanding the scope of our culturally responsive services and retaining a presence for the urban Native community on this Indigenous land.