Construction begins on Duwamish longhouse


Recognition bill stalled in committee despite partnerships

SEATTLE - Construction was scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 17 on a Duwamish longhouse and cultural center, the first longhouse in the city since 1894.

''It's emotional for me,'' said Cecile Hansen, Duwamish chairman and great-great-grandniece of Si'ahl, the Duwamish/Suquamish leader for whom the city of Seattle is named.

''We've been working 30 years for [our] own place. In the last five years, people have gotten involved that said we need to have [our] own place, our people have suffered so much.''

Mary Lou Slaughter, a direct descendant of Si'ahl, added, ''I'm very excited. It will give a presence in the city which we haven't had, a place to show people what we do and teach our youngsters.''

The longhouse is being built on Duwamish-owned land along the Duwamish River. The site is just west of two ancestral village sites: Ha-ah'-poos, which means ''where there are horse clams,'' and Tohl-ahl-too, which means ''herring house.''

The two-story, carved cedar longhouse will consist of a greeting area featuring the names and representations of Duwamish leaders going back more than a century; a ceremonial space; a cultural resource center, where archaeological materials will be displayed; and a commercial kitchen specializing in preparing traditional Duwamish foods.

Besides serving a ceremonial purpose, the longhouse is intended to be a cultural destination, where visitors can enjoy traditional foods, including roasted or stewed clams; boiled, fried or smoked salmon; roasted duck, grouse or venison; boiled or mashed wapato, a type of potato; and traditional condiments such as preserved wild blackberries and cranberries.

Donors to the $3 million project include the King County Arts Commission, King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission, King County's special appropriations and special projects funds, state Capital Projects Fund, state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, Squaxin Island Tribe, Washington Commission for the Humanities and the Washington Community Reinvestment Association.

Foundations donating to the project include the Annenberg Foundation, Gates Foundation, Kongsgaard Goldman Foundation and the Seventh Generation Fund.

The project team includes architect Byron Barnes, Blackfeet, who has been involved from the project's inception; and grant writer Chad Lewis, a college professor whose ancestral uncle signed a petition to remove the Duwamish from Seattle.

The longhouse construction is arguably the signature event in two headline-making years for the Duwamish.

From October 2005 to September 2006, a Duwamish exhibit and gallery was hosted by Seattle's Museum of History and Industry, funded by a $120,890 grant from the Administration for Native Americans, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The exhibit was intended to boost public knowledge of Duwamish's culture, history and status. Proceeds from the sale of Duwamish art supported tribal programs and operations.

In July 2006, a Duwamish story pole carved by Sealth descendant Michael Halady, Duwamish/Suquamish, was erected in West Seattle near the site where Seattle's original white emigrants were welcomed by Duwamish people in 1851. The pole was carved from a cedar tree made available by the state Department of Natural Resources. The city of Seattle funded the project for $72,000.

The story pole includes the image of a spirit guardian with hands raised, symbolizing the welcome offered to white immigrants. The image originated on a post from a Duwamish longhouse.

''That was a beautiful day. It was like getting back part of our heritage,'' said Slaughter, Halady's mother.

And in June, Duwamish Tribal Services hosted a month-long online art auction, followed by a live art auction and traditional feast June 10 at the Museum of History and Industry; the event raised $53,000 for the longhouse project, Hansen said.

Duwamish recognition remains elusive

Despite the government and private partnerships that Duwamish has cultivated, federal recognition - a government-to-government relationship with the United States - remains elusive.

For the third time, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, has introduced a bill to recognize the Duwamish. And once again, the bill is stalled in the House Committee on Natural Resources. The committee is chaired by Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va. One of its subcommittees is the Office of Indian Affairs.

Si'ahl signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. The treaty wasn't ratified in time to keep homesteaders from claiming the land that now comprises the city and residents of the new city lobbied to keep land from being set aside for a reservation. In 1865, Seattle's city council passed a law banning the Duwamish and other Native peoples from living within the city limits. The Duwamish were evicted and their longhouses destroyed by arson.

Early testimony states that the Duwamish had 90 longhouses and six potlatch houses in 17 villages throughout what is now King County.

On Sept. 17, 2002, Hansen testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the Duwamish received federal services and exercised their treaty fishing rights until 1975. That's when U.S. District Judge George Boldt settled the western Washington fishing wars by ruling that treaty tribes were entitled to half of the annual salmon harvest; however, he excluded so-called ''landless'' tribes, among them the Duwamish. ''Landless'' became synonymous with ''unrecognized.''

''We have never been terminated by Congress,'' Hansen testified in 2002. ''Now the BIA is telling us that we are not federally recognized. This is a grave injustice to the Duwamish people and other treaty tribes like us.''

The Duwamish were granted federal recognition on Jan. 19, 2001, the final day of the Clinton administration. But in October of that year, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs overturned the decision, saying there were breaks in the cultural and political continuity of the Duwamish.

''That really hurt,'' said Slaughter, whose Duwamish name is Sla'da, which means ''lady.''

''How could they say that? We're very much alive ... You feel like a third-class citizen when you are told you are not who you say you are. We do have a heritage and we're proud of it.''

At the time, Hansen called the decision ''shabby treatment.'' She said the Duwamish operate under a constitution adopted in 1921. Hansen has been Duwamish chairman since 1975; she is also chairman of the Small Tribes of Western Washington.

Hansen said she is asking local tribal governments ''to support the regaining of our status.'' But she said the bill needs the support of Washington state's congressional delegation to move out of committee.

Some tribal governments, such as neighboring Muckleshoot, have opposed Duwamish recognition because they are concerned about the further sharing of a depleted resource: fish, particularly salmon. But others, including the Samish Indian Nation, say recognition empowers tribal governments to get involved in salmon recovery and habitat restoration efforts.

Tom Speer, a member of the board of Duwamish Tribal Services, which manages the money Duwamish raises to provide services to its members, said Duwamish's battle poses an important question to so-called recognized tribes, including those opposed to Duwamish's recognition.

If Duwamish, the first signatory to the 1855 treaty, can be prevented by the federal government from enjoying its treaty rights, he asked, ''What makes other tribes feel they're safe?''

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at