SEATTLE - The Duwamish River bears their name, yet the Duwamish people have
no fishing rights there.
The city of Seattle is named for their leader, Si'ahl, who helped
European-American immigrants get established after they landed in what is
now West Seattle in 1851. Yet the Duwamish were later forced off the land,
and their longhouses and potlatch houses burned to the ground.
The Point Elliott Treaty of 1855 is titled "Treaty with the Dwamish &c.
Indians." Yet 150 years later, the promises made to the Duwamish people are
A bill authored by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, would stop 150 years
of injustice and give federal recognition to the Duwamish people.
The official title of House Resolution 852 is "The Duwamish Tribal
Recognition Act." McDermott introduced H.R. 852 on Feb. 16; it was referred
to the House Committee on Resources. If approved, the committee would
forward the resolution to the Rules Committee, which would send it to the
floor of the House for a vote.
Duwamish Chairman Cecile Hansen, great-great-grandniece of Si'ahl, is more
than frustrated by the years of unfulfilled promises to her people. "The
story is we're extinct, but we're still here," she said. "You can't erase
history. We're still here."
When European-Americans arrived in 1851, Duwamish territory was a thriving
place. Early testimony states that the Duwamish had 90 longhouses and six
potlatch houses in 17 villages throughout what is now King County.
Out of respect for Si'ahl, the newcomers named their city "Seattle" in his
honor. In 1855, Si'ahl was the first signatory to the Point Elliott Treaty,
which promised the Duwamish and other signatories a land base and resource
A four-year delay in the ratification of the treaty, however, allowed
settlers to claim 320-acre allotments on Duwamish land through the Donation
Land Act. By 1865, settlers in the bustling new city opposed the idea of a
Duwamish reservation in or near the city limits.
In 1865, Seattle's city council passed 12 laws, the fifth of which banned
the Duwamish and all other Native peoples from living within the Seattle
city limits. The Duwamish were evicted by force and their longhouses
destroyed by arson.
According to Tom Speer, member of the board of Duwamish Tribal Services,
"Removal of the Duwamish and Snoqualmie tribes effectively cleared central
King County for European-American settlement from Puget Sound to the
Cascade Mountains. From the Duwamish Tribe's ancestral homeland alone, over
54,000 acres were taken by the European-Americans, free of charge."
In 1926, the Duwamish filed suit before the Indian Claims Commission for
compensation for their land. It wasn't until 1963 that a land claims
judgment was awarded in the amount of $62,000; the money wasn't distributed
"When they paid off the tribe, we all got $64 apiece," Hansen previously
told Indian Country Today. "At that time, they were going with what land
was worth an acre [historically], which was $1.35."
'WE HAVE NEVER BEEN TERMINATED'
In 1975, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled that federally recognized
tribes were entitled to half of the annual salmon harvest. Based on that
ruling, the Duwamish and other unrecognized tribes were ineligible for
treaty fishing rights.
The Duwamish were granted federal recognition on Jan. 19, 2001, the final
day of the Clinton administration. But in October that year, the assistant
secretary for Indian Affairs overturned the decision, saying there were
breaks in the cultural and political continuity of the Duwamish Tribe.
At the time, Hansen called the decision "shabby treatment." In a recent
interview, she said the Duwamish operate under a constitution adopted in
1921. Hansen has been the Duwamish chairman for 30 years.
On Sept. 17, 2002, Hansen testified before the Senate Committee on Indian
Affairs for changes in the criteria and standards for tribal recognition.
"Until the 1970s, we were receiving federal Indian services and exercising
our Indian treaty fishing rights," Hansen testified. "We have never been
terminated by Congress. 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.
"We recommend that if changes are made to the federal acknowledgement
process, that at minimum, tribes that were signatories to treaties and gave
up their land or other rights should be presumptively federally
Hansen argued that the Interior secretary "should bear the burden of
proving that we are not a federally recognized tribe, not the other way
-- Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at email@example.com.