Duwamish supporters formed a short procession to Jewell’s home, flying silk salmon flags and carrying a huge banner which read, “I Stand with the Duwamish Tribe #standwithduwamish.”

Duwamish Still Waiting for Meeting With Interior Secretary Jewell

Richard Walker

Two months ago, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen and others that she would review letters requesting a meeting regarding restoring Duwamish’s federal recognition and would discuss the issue with Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn, Chickasaw.

September came and went. October came and went. No response.

So Hansen and more than 50 community members returned to Jewell’s home in West Seattle on October 24 for a peaceful demonstration and to deliver a letter and petition requesting a meeting.

Hansen and Duwamish Tribe Councilman Ken Workman, accompanied by two supporters, rang Jewell’s doorbell. She did not open her door, so they placed the letter and petition at the gate outside her front door. Copies of the letter and petition were also mailed to Jewell’s D.C. office.

As of this writing, Duwamish has not received a response from Jewell.

Duwamish first petitioned the U.S. for federal recognition in 1976; the petition was approved on January 19, 2001 by Michael J. Anderson, acting assistant secretary of the Interior, the day before the end of the Clinton administration. His decision, however, was held for review by the Bush administration and overturned eight months later. In March 2013, a federal judge ruled the Bush administration denied Duwamish recognition based on outdated rules and ordered the petition reconsidered.

On July 2, 2015, BIA denied Duwamish’s petition for federal recognition, claiming Duwamish had not provided sufficient evidence that it has been “an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900,” that it has comprised “a distinct community and has existed as a community from historical times to the present,” and that it has “maintained political influence or authority as an autonomous entity over its members since historical times.”

The people of the Duwamish Tribe are the descendants of those who refused to go to reservations at Lummi, Muckleshoot, Port Madison, and Puyallup. Some who did go to reservations later returned to what they knew as home: Along the shores of the lakes and rivers, within view of a landscape that was changing in a way they never dreamed possible.

According to BIA documents: After Si’ahl passed away in 1866, leadership of a scattered population passed to Chief William, or Stoda, of Black River; and Chief James Moses of what is now Renton. At the time, the Seattle City Council had banned Duwamish people from living within the city limits and there was increasing pressure to move to reservations outside of the area.

William Rogers succeeded Stoda as chief in 1896. In 1915, the tribe reorganized as the Duwamish Tribe of Indians and elected a board of directors led by Rogers and Charles Satiacum. Elected to the board were Duwamish people from Auburn, Marietta, Olympia, Renton, Suquamish and Tacoma, including Duwamish living on reservations. Their involvement seems to indicate that these Duwamish viewed the Duwamish Nation as still existing, that even though they lived outside of Seattle they still identified as Duwamish.

Peter James, a Duwamish living on the Lummi Reservation, served as chairman of the Duwamish Tribe from 1917-1945. He was succeeded by George James, 1945-1960; Henry Moses, 1960-62; Ruth Eley Scranton, 1962-65; Willard Bill, 1965-76; and Cecile Hansen, 1976-present.

Today, the Duwamish Tribe is led by a chairperson and five-member council, and is headquartered in the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center, near the Duwamish River village site of ha-AH-poos. It was the first longhouse built in Seattle since 1894, when the last ancestral longhouse was burned by settlers. The $3.5-million project was funded by the State of Washington, the City of Seattle, King County, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, and numerous foundations and nonprofits.

The Duwamish government provides numerous services for its 600 citizens:

The longhouse is a center of cultural activity, with regular presentations as well as museum-standard exhibits.

Duwamish Tribal Services provides social and cultural services to Duwamish people. It administers an Emergency Food Assistance Program funded by the state’s Office of Community, Trade, and Economic Development. “The program provides on average 72 Native people and their families with monthly food vouchers and other support services,” according to the Duwamish Tribe website. The tribe also helps Duwamish people get to gatherings and medical appointments.

Duwamish’s T’ilibshudub (“Singing Feet”) cultural heritage group teaches traditional dance, song, storytelling and ceremonial practices.

Duwamish is represented in the annual Canoe Journey; you’ll find young Duwamish people in the Oliver Canoe Family -- Chairwoman Hansen is a niece of Canoe Journey founder Emmett Oliver -- and in the Blue Heron Canoe Family led by Snohomish Chairman Mike Evans.

(James Rasmussen, a former Duwamish Tribal Council member, is coordinator of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition’s Technical Advisory Group. The group and its partner organizations have been working since 2001 to ensure a thorough cleanup of the lower Duwamish River. Among the stakeholders he works with: the Muckleshoot Tribe.)

To Hansen, opposition by other Tribes to Duwamish’s recognition doesn’t make sense. “There should be healing in Indian country,” she said. “Some people say we just want a casino. I’ve been doing this for 40 years [since before the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988], and 40 years ago nobody had a casino. This is not the Indian way. To call me in 2001 and say we’ve been recognized and then take it away because some tribes are fighting it, this is sick. It’s not right.”

She said the federal government acknowledged the Duwamish Tribe when it signed the treaty with the Duwamish et al. “You have to speak up because this is not right. We are acknowledged -- either the treaty is the truth, or it’s not the truth, and if it’s not the truth then no one is recognized,” she said.

Petition with more than 300 signatures

On October 24, Hansen and her supporters left at Jewell’s home a follow-up letter signed by 15 organizations and a petition with 300 signatures advocating for restoration of Duwamish’s federal recognition.

Duwamish supporters formed a short procession to Jewell’s home, flying silk salmon flags and carrying a huge banner which read, “I Stand with the Duwamish Tribe #standwithduwamish.”

Workman raised his hands in thanks to Hansen and supporters present. Hansen expressed her gratitude as well. "I love all of you for rising up for the Duwamish,” she said. “The whole City of Seattle should rise up, starting with the mayor's office."

Community organizers offered the following resources for ways to Stand with the Duwamish Tribe: duwamishtribe.org, crowdrise.com/riseupforduwamishfederalrec, and standwithduwamish.com.

Here’s an abridged version of the letter delivered to Secretary Jewell:

October 24, 2015

Dear Secretary of the Interior Jewell,

… This is the second letter asking that you show up in solidarity with the First People of Seattle, Washington – the Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) Tribe – by meeting to discuss their options forward for federal recognition in light of the negative determination posted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on July 2, 2015 …

We urge you to stand for justice by listening to the tribe to better understand and hold compassion for how the political process has failed them. Our government has not honored the original 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott where the tribe ceded 54,000 acres of their lands in the areas of King County, Bellevue, Seattle, Mercer Island, Renton and Tukwila. A crucial detail to note is that the tribe never gave up sovereignty in signing this treaty.

You made a statement in your fifth week as Secretary of the Interior …, "American Indians and Alaska Natives are survivors of efforts to assimilate indigenous people, terminate tribal governments, and wipe out native languages and cultures. The emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical violence perpetrated continues to haunt Native American communities today."  … [Y] ou have a moral obligation as the literal neighbor and immigrant to Duwamish lands, and as Secretary of the Interior, to work with ALL tribes, especially those who go unrecognized and do not have access to the services, funding, and political support that official tribal status brings.

… We are hopeful that you will meet with Duwamish tribal leaders and aid them in the journey towards federal recognition along with the already recognized tribes of Turtle Island, also known as the United States. The DUWAMISH TRIBE IS STILL HERE!

(Signed by representatives of the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites, Duwamish Ally Group, Rising Tide Seattle, and 15 other groups)

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page