NOTICE: It is 167 years passed to restore the recognition of the Duwamish tribe
by the Duwamish Tribal Council
Cecile Hansen (Tribal Council President)
Désirée Fagan (board member)
Ken Workman (board member)
James Rasmussen (board member)
John Boddy (board member)
Roger Boddy (board member)
Paul Nelson (board member)
Cindy Williams (Tribal Council Secretary/Treasurer)
Russell Beard (board member)
For at least 12,000 years, the Duwamish people have lived in what is now known as King County. The “inland people” inhabited the lands around Elliott Bay, along the Black, Cedar, and Duwamish rivers, and around Lake Washington.
As Tribal Council member and co-author of this article, Ken Workman has often said, “Our people are buried under the streets, sidewalks and homes of Seattle. Their DNA rises from the roots of the trees, and when the wind blows through the leaves, these are the sounds of our ancestors.
After 17 decades of broken promises, cultural erasure and outright persecution since the arrival of the settlers, we now live in a moment of hope like never before.
Nowadays, the name “Duwamish” is spoken hundreds of times every day in land reconnaissances at gatherings around town.
On the banks of the river that also bears our name, a beautiful longhouse stands to celebrate our culture and serve our community.
More than 20,000 people and organizations have volunteered to pay “actual rent” to benefit Duwamish Tribal Services, the non-profit arm of the Duwamish Tribe, in recognition of the fact that they live and work on land from where the Duwamish were moved.
With growing support from Seattle residents, we believe the time has come to address a massive injustice: the US federal government’s refusal to recognize our tribe.
When our ancestor Chief Sealth, after whom this town is named, signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, he did so on behalf of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes.
After the treaty was signed, however, the federal government broke many of the promises it had made to the Duwamish. The government initially promised the Duwamish people two reservations: a temporary one at Holderness Point (Duwamish Head, near Alki Point) and another near the town of Renton. The latter never materialized because white settlers opposed a reservation in or near the city limits.
Later, in 1865, Seattle leaders passed Ordinance No. 5, a shameful ordinance prohibiting Indigenous people from “residing or being”.[ing] their residences on any street, highway, lane, driveway, or vacant lot in the city of Seattle (adopted February 7, 1865).
Duwamish homes were burned to the ground. Violence against the Duwamish, women in particular, was widespread and went largely unpunished. After the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed in 1916, draining the Black River and depriving our ancestors of their food source and mode of transportation, the last historic village of Duwamish was largely wiped out.
Without own reservation, some of our ancestors moved to other reservations. Many continued to maintain distinct social, cultural, community, and political ties with other Duwamish members, living both on and off reservations.
Others defied local ordinances and stayed in Seattle or the surrounding area. Chief Seattle’s daughter Kikisoblu (better known as “Princess Angeline”) was an early resister, refusing to leave her waterfront cabin on Western Avenue between Pike and Pine Streets, where she lived until her death in 1896.
In 1925, Duwamish leaders established a formal constitution and bylaws and called the tribal government the “Duwamish Tribal Organization of Duwamish American Indians” (sometimes referred to as “DTO”).
We are proud that since the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, the Duwamish Tribe has survived despite all odds. We have been governed by an unbroken chain of leaders, from Chief Seattle to current President Cecile Hansen.
We are always here.
Today, however, the US Department of the Interior argues that the Duwamish Tribe who signed the Point Elliott Treaty somehow ceased to exist at some point in the last 167 years. We To do do not cease to exist.
The Duwamish Tribe continues to fight for federal recognition.
The denial of federal recognition by the Department of the Interior is incorrect both in fact and in law. There are very real consequences for our members in the unfair denial of federal recognition:
- We are denied federal support for health, education and poverty reduction programs. For example, last year our members were excluded from the largest investment of resources in tribal communities in US history through the American Rescue Plan Act.
- We are denied tribal sovereignty, self-determination and government commitment to our survival. And when our identity, our culture, our religious freedoms and even our very existence are denied, so is our individual dignity.
Despite this injustice, we remain organized, supportive of our members and active in the community. We are stewards of the local environment and our traditions, and we contribute to the cultural health of our city.
We want our members to enjoy the same legal rights enjoyed by members of federally recognized tribes: to have a tribal vote, to run for tribal elections, to receive tribal services and benefits, and to fully realize the treaty promises to them. were made by United States government in 1855.
We believe federal recognition of the Duwamish Tribe will uplift everyone. Playing the vulnerable against each other is a tactic the powerful often use to evade accountability. Pitching other tribal organizations against us is no different. Our fight is with the federal government, not with our brothers and sisters enrolled in other tribes.
The Duwamish tribe is the only tribe composed entirely of Duwamish descendants.
We are grateful that the people of Seattle and King County have embraced our cause. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding federal recognition. We were supported by an ever-growing coalition of representatives, faith groups, unions, businesses, artists and community organizations.
Non-Aboriginal people have a vital role to play in helping the Duwamish gain recognition. We cannot win this fight without your help. In addition to signing the petition, you can join Real Rent Duwamish and tell your elected officials that you support Duwamish Tribal Recognition.
Acknowledgment of the Duwamish Indigenous presence in what is now Seattle is vital for anyone who wants to live by their values.
We cannot live a fairer future if we continue to erase the past.
We are simply seeking justice.
We are here. We are ready. It’s time.
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📸 The featured image: The Duwamish Tribal Council meets at the longhouse on West Marginal Way, before a portrait of Kikisoblu, Chief Sealth’s daughter. Left to right: Roger Boddy, James Rasmussen, Desiree Fagan, Board Chair Cecile Hansen, Paul Nelson, Ken Workman and John Boddy. Unrepresented board members are Cindy Williams and Russell Beard.
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