Children of the Setting Sun Productions receives $2 million grant - Salish Current
March 26, 2024
Children of the Setting Sun Productions receives $2 million grant
Richard Arlin Walker
In a Children of the Setting Sun Productions series, Ta’Kaiya Blaney stars in The Sound,a coming-of-age TV drama that follows a group of Coast Salish teens as they travel their ancestral waters in a traditional canoe. The nonprofit has been awarded a $2 million grant to support its work in cultural education. (Children of the Setting Sun Productions)
 
March 26, 2024
Children of the Setting Sun Productions receives $2 million grant
Richard Arlin Walker

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Children of the Setting Sun Productions, a Bellingham-based cultural education and environmental justice nonprofit, is the recipient of a $2 million grant from Yield Giving, the philanthropy established by billionaire philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott.

Yield Giving awarded $640 million to 361 small nonprofits that responded to an open call for applications, the organization announced March 19. The Whatcom Center for Early Learning also received a $2 million grant.

“We’re grateful and we’re thankful for the gift,” said Darrell Hillaire, founder of Children of the Setting Sun Productions. “We extend our hands up to [Scott] and the people she’s working with to do this. We raise our hands in thanks.”

Hillaire said that how the grant will be budgeted by his organization hasn’t been determined, but judging by the organization’s plethora of programming it comes at a good time. 

Children of the Setting Sun Productions has a team of 20 directors, researchers, writers and videographers — most of them Indigenous — engaged in multimedia storytelling and leadership development to fulfill the organization’s mission to create and share Indigenous stories of gratitude, generosity, and respect [and] empower the minds and hearts of future generations. Hillaire founded Children of the Setting Sun to continue the work of a cultural presentation group of the same name founded by his great-grandfather Frank Hillaire. 

“Our focus is what we are passing on to our children and grandchildren,” explained Darrell Hillaire, founder of Children of the Setting Sun Productions. “We’re here to make this a better place for [all] people.” (Children of the Setting Sun Productions)

“He noticed the number of people moving to the area not knowing who we are as a people,” Darrell Hillaire said in an introductory video. “He took it upon himself to educate them, so he formed a dance group and named it Children of the Setting Sun. So, we’re just continuing that legacy that was started over a century ago.”

Beau Garreau, creative director, explained, “Here at Children of the Setting Sun Productions, we use our digital storytelling to produce films, books, podcasts, and we do events to help bridge the gap between non-Native and Native perspectives.” 

Children of the Setting Sun Production’s first effort, in 2015, was “What About Those Promises?” — a historical stage play about the United States’ unfulfilled obligations under the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855. It has since produced several films; published a book, “Jesintel: Living Wisdom from Coast Salish Elders,” and established Setting Sun Institute, a think tank that addresses climate change and social injustice. 

The mission of the institute is “to put things back together,” Setting Sun Productions’ website explains. “We endeavor to resolve human conflict and protect the natural environment by using the traditional wisdom of the Salish people in a new way: through a Native-led think tank grown in the home region of the Pacific salmon.”

From Berkeley to Orcas

As Hillaire expressed gratitude for Yield Giving’s gift, he was preparing for the nonprofit environmental advocacy organization Bioneers conference March 28–30 in Berkeley, California, where Children of the Setting Sun’s film “Salmon People“ is scheduled to be shown. [Read more: “‘Salmon People’ dives deep into the past to save the salmon,” Salish Current, Aug. 5, 2022]

From March 29 to April 30, the Orcas Center will present “Children of the Setting Sun: From Time Immemorial.” The exhibition begins with a screening of “Salmon People” and a gallery opening showcasing some of Children of the Setting Sun’s work.

Orcas Island is within the historical territory of the Lummi, or Lhaq’temish, people, and they maintain cultural, relationship and treaty rights ties. Children of the Setting Sun’s statement about the exhibition is a reflection of what it is trying to accomplish with its work: “It’s good to share the memories of our homeland and deepen understanding of the things we are working towards today. The Lummi people still fish here, canoe here and we take care of our ancestors here. This we are grateful for.”

Closing gaps

Children of the Setting Sun’s presentations — many of them engaging young Native people in the work — come as tribal nations and allies work to protect the environment and treaty rights, close the educational achievement gap among Native students and close a gap in cultural knowledge among non-Native neighbors and decision makers. 

A Children of the Setting Sun videographer, at right, films a dance during a longhouse gathering. (Children of the Setting Sun Productions)

There has been some progress in the last 20 years. A 2015 state law requires the inclusion of Native American history, culture and government in public school curricula. (Tribal history is state history, the law’s author, the late Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, noted.) A 2021 law prohibits the use of Native American names, symbols and images as public school mascots, logos and team names. A 2020 law affirms the inherent right of Native students to wear traditional regalia and objects of cultural significance at graduation ceremonies and related events. 

The number of ninth graders passing all classes was up between 2019 and 2021, the last year data was published by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Meanwhile, the high school graduation rate among Native students was up from 73% in 2019 to 75% in 2021; the dropout rate among Native students fell from 12.5% to 9.7% during that same time period, according to OSPI.

Supporting equity

The Whatcom Center for Early Learning will apply its grant to furthering its work providing comprehensive therapy and support services to children from birth to three years old experiencing developmental challenges. “Our vision is an equitable society where children with disabilities and their families thrive, experience meaningful connections, and have a deep understanding of their strengths and needs,” the center wrote in its mission statement.

Scott was listed on March 25 by Forbes as the 41st-wealthiest individual in the world with a net worth of $36.5 billion derived from her stake in Amazon, the company her then-husband, Jeff Bezos, founded. On Yield Giving’s website, Scott said she founded Yield Giving — “yield: (verb) 1. to increase 2. to give up control” — to share a financial fortune “created through the effort of countless people.” 

To date, Yield Giving’s network of staff and advisers report they have given more than $17.3 billion to more than 2,300 nonprofit teams “to use as they see fit for the benefit of others,” YieldGiving.com posted. 

Yield Giving was assisted in the open-call evaluation and selection by Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the philanthropic John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“From a pool of over 6,000 applicants, each of these 361 community-led nonprofits was elevated by peer organizations and a round-two evaluation panel for their outstanding work advancing the voices and opportunities of individuals and families of meager or modest means, and groups who have met with discrimination and other systemic obstacles,” Scott wrote on Yield Giving’s website.  

“[I’m] grateful to Lever for Change and everyone on the evaluation and implementation teams for their roles in creating this pathway to support for people working to improve access to foundational resources in their communities. They are vital agents of change,” Scott said.

Other nonprofits in Washington will use $1 million or $2 million gifts from Yield Giving to help rural students achieve diplomas, degrees, employment and economic well-being; expand access to arts education; find practical solutions to homelessness, including youth homelessness; help refugees and immigrants achieve career success; advance environmental justice; help young people with low incomes achieve their higher-education goals; provide perinatal and early parenting support; and eliminate race-based disparities in technology learning.

— Reported by Richard Arlin Walker

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