Racial & Social Justice Partner Spotlight Series
Each month we will be spotlighting an organization or individual in our community who is putting in the work to create real and lasting change for a more equitable Spokane.
Our Racial & Social Justice Partner Spotlight this March is Kiana McKenna and the Pacific Islander Community Association.
What roles do you serve in the community and what are your titles?
Kiana McKenna serves as the Director of Policy & Civic Engagement with the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington (PICA). While the organization is based out of Federal Way, it serves all of Washington with employees and volunteers across the state. PICA’s east side presence is rapidly growing, with the hopes of establishing an office in Spokane soon.
What mission or vision guides your work?
The Pacific Islander Community Association’s mission states that the organization “seeks to live out the indigenous values of Pasifika (NH/PI) communities here in Washington State through community organizing, and speaking our truth fiercely to systems of power while providing social support and cultural spaces for the community to gather in dignity.
Our mission is threefold: establish a cultural home, center community power, and further the wellness of our communities physically, culturally, socially and spiritually. Pasifika communities of Washington are a resilient community and while it has had to endure struggles in combating systematic erasure, Pasifika people will continue to rise!”
For Kiana personally, the vision of building community power is incredibly important, as she recognizes that the systems we have in place tend to be designed to take power away from communities of color, rather than building it back. She hopes to help transform these systems and amplify community voice recognizing that all people carry sacred voices and that communities closest to the issue are closest to the solutions.
How do you live out this mission?
Kiana lives out her mission by organizing in her community and strong advocacy at all levels on behalf of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NH/PI) so that they can one day fully thrive. Kiana was connected to PICA through her work with the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Spokane (APIC). When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Pasifika communities were being hit especially hard, accounting for 67% of cases in Spokane County while representing less than 1% of the population. At the time, these disparities in data were being ignored by health officials and not being recognized as a result of systemic and institutional racism. Her colleagues helped her get connected with PICA’s executive director, Joseph Seia, to organize the community and find solutions to the many health barriers NH/PI were facing.
Health & Wellness Amidst the Pandemic
In Spokane, many NH/PI families live in multi-generational homes, and work in essential services, putting them at higher risk for COVID. In addition to the increased risk, there was only one local resource translated into Marshallese, making it near impossible for families to get current information on the COVID guidelines and recommendations.
By setting up vaccine clinics, wellness clinics, supporting food security, and improving outreach to Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities with culturally competent resources, PICA was able to help bring the COVID rate down to under 5% for their community shortly after. Advocating for more inclusive policies and NH/PI services, bringing in more NH/PI community health workers, and developing comprehensive outreach programs to assist with food insecurity throughout the pandemic are just a few of the things PICA has been working on recently.
Empowering Pasifika Communities
Through her work with PICA, Kiana helps amplify other voices within her community by setting up pathways to leadership for elders and youth alike. Recently the association started the Pasifika Village Council of Washington State. This is a space where Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander community leaders can share what is going on within their community, celebrate victories and address challenges together.
This is modeled off of Pasifika tradition. Representatives of Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian communities bring issues forward from across Washington state in monthly meetings, which are also broadcast on Facebook live for others to join and share throughout the meeting. Gathering this community input is crucial to developing power, accountability and true unity within Pasifika communities across Washington.
What aspect of your work do you enjoy the most?
What Kiana enjoys most about her work is that she gets to constantly be in community. While in other workplaces it might be uncommon for Kiana to find people who look like her or grew up with similar values, she is able to have that connection everyday with the work she is currently doing. Being surrounded by people who make her feel seen and heard is healing, it allows Kiana to find a sense of wholeness and grounding that makes her stronger. By being in community constantly, Kiana is being filled up as she gives her time and energy, preventing burnout and disengagement with the work she cares about.
How long have you been doing this work and what drew you in?
Kiana has been working with the Pacific Islander Community Association since 2020, when the pandemic brought on the need for a NH/PI Covid Task Force in our region to address the many disparities occurring within Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander communities. Working with the Pacific Islander Community Association across the state, they were able to help get resources to the people and reduce COVID infection rates in NH/PI communities across the state. At the beginning of this year, she started her full-time role as the Director of Policy & Civic Engagement, and was able to make her work with PICA her main focus and only job.
This desire to help her community thrive is what brought Kiana to PICA and what keeps her rooted in her work every day. For her, thriving not only means creating better wellness outcomes, but having Pasifika voices heard and accounted for within the wider community and at a systems level. Bringing NH/PI communities together creates true unity, and therefore strength, so that they can overcome barriers to create a fully thriving community.
What are 3 words to describe yourself or your work?
Three words to describe Kiana are a fierce, loving advocate. She stands up fiercely for the community in her work, demonstrating her passion and love for her people. Kiana’s advocacy and service is both about taking a stand for what is right and growing the power of her people from within. She is constantly building connections to the community, sharing these amazing qualities every day.
How can folks get involved or support you?
“Invite us to the table!” was Kiana’s most important suggestion for supporting the work that PICA does. If you’re on a forum or at a table where decisions are being made, pull up a chair for Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander voices and never ask us to concede anything to be there.
Pasifika voices need to be heard and amplified to give the community more power on its own as it is recognized as an autonomous group, separate from Asian and Asian Americans, as they come from different cultures and places, experiencing different barriers to accessing care and representation. The unique stories of Pasifika people need to be heard and felt for true change to be made.
As with all nonprofit work, the Pacific Islander Community Association needs continued funding to develop here in the inland northwest. To support the work their organization is doing, donate at picawa.org/donate.