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Loss of Federal Recognition Leads to Loss of Artifacts for Duwamish

Losing its federal recognition status during the Bush administration has also meant a loss of artifacts for the Duwamish Tribe in Washington state.

The Duwamish Tribe was not included in nearly two years of discussions between the Port of Seattle, the Suquamish Tribe and the Muckleshoot Tribe regarding the transfer of ownership of more than 150 boxes of artifacts from an archaeological site across the street from Duwamish’s Longhouse and Cultural Center.

That fact came to light as the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which is managing the artifacts for the Port, removed eight artifacts from the cultural center July 22. The artifacts had been displayed in the cultural center’s museum for four years, on loan by the Burke, and consisted of an adze blade, an antler tool, an awl, a harpoon point, and four other points.

Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

Items displayed at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center included a set of stone projectile points and a stone adze blade. The items were removed by the Burke Museum at the request of the Port of Seattle, which wants to repatriate them to the Suquamish Tribe or Muckleshoot Tribe.

Watching her ancestors’ things go out the door was a painful moment for Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the embattled Duwamish Tribe and great-great-grandniece of Chief Si’ahl, for whom the City of Seattle was named. The moment brought to the fore one of the painful consequences of the George W. Bush administration—overturning the U.S. government’s recognition of the Duwamish Tribe.

Because of that, the artifacts will ultimately go to a federally recognized tribe.

“We signed the Treaty [of Point Elliott],” she said. “We signed it in good will and we’re treated this way … If [our recognition was] restored by the government, it wouldn’t be an issue.”

The archaeological site is known as the Duwamish No. 1 Site, on land now owned by the Port of Seattle and excavated by archaeologists in 1978 and 1986. The ancient village site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a park managed by the Port.

Steve Denton, manager of collections held in trust at the Burke, said the items excavated from the site include formed objects, such as adz blades and points; shells, fish and mammal bones, which tell of the diet of the people at the village; and bags of soil, which contain pollen samples and other plant materials.

Denton said the Port wants to repatriate the artifacts and engaged in discussions with the Suquamish and the Muckleshoot to determine the future ownership of the items. Suquamish and Muckleshoot have reservations on which Duwamish people settled after the treaty was signed. Members of the Duwamish Tribe that Hansen chairs are descended from people who didn’t relocate to Suquamish or Muckleshoot but wanted to stay in Seattle.

Muckleshoot has a repository. Suquamish has a repository and museum. Chief Si’ahl and several members of his family are interred at St. Peter’s Mission Cemetery on the Suquamish reservation.

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Suquamish Museum Director Janet Smoak said July 27 she understood the Port had made a decision on transfer of ownership and is expected to make an announcement within four to six weeks.

ICTMN called and emailed the Port of Seattle’s media office for comment and information July 22. Questions were forwarded to the port’s tribal liaison, who had not responded by month’s end.

Hansen was initially notified in a letter from Laura S. Phillips, the Burke’s archaeology collections manager, that the Port wanted the artifacts returned “for rehousing and ultimate transfer of ownership to the Muckleshoot Tribe.” Duwamish officials were offended because the Muckleshoot Tribe has consistently opposed Duwamish’s efforts to restore its government-to-government relationship with the U.S. In a 2009 column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Muckleshoot’s then-chairwoman Charlotte Williams compared the Duwamish Tribe to “voluntary associations of common ethnic backgrounds organized to promote language and culture.”

The Duwamish Tribe’s take on history: The treaty was signed in 1855 but wasn’t ratified until 1859. In the intervening time, the Duwamish people in Seattle began being pushed out by settlers. In 1865, a Seattle city ordinance banned permanent Native houses within the city limits. In 1866, the U.S. Indian Agent Thomas Paige recommended to the U.S. government that a reservation be established for the Duwamish, but settlers successfully petitioned against it in a letter to their congressional delegate, Arthur Denny. Between 1855 and 1904, 94 Duwamish longhouses were burned to the ground by the city’s newer residents.

In 1974, U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt reaffirmed the right of Treaty Tribes in Washington state to harvest salmon and co-manage the salmon fishery with the state, but the ruling applied only to reservation tribes. The decision excluded “landless tribes” like the Duwamish, Samish, Snoqualmie and Steilacoom.

On January 19, 2001, a Clinton administration Bureau of Indian Affairs official approved the Duwamish Tribe’s petition for recognition, but two days later the decision was suspended, and later overturned, by the incoming Bush administration. On March 22 this year, a U.S. District Court judge ruled the Bush administration wrongly denied Duwamish’s petition for recognition, and ordered Duwamish’s petition reconsidered. And so Duwamish again waits.

The Duwamish Tribe has 600 enrolled members, and raised $3.45 million for its 6,000-square-foot Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center, which opened in 2009, the first longhouse structure in the city in 100 years.

Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

An interior view of the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center. The longhouse, designed by architect Byron Barnes, Blackfeet, is a venue for cultural and educational programs. Historic materials are displayed in secure, humidity controlled display cases with bilingual signage and interpretation.

The Burke Museum—a state museum located on the University of Washington campus—has invited Duwamish officials to review and select “alternate archaeological materials” from its collection for exhibit. There are numerous other items from the Burke Museum on exhibit at the longhouse, including a basket that belonged to Angeline, Chief Si’ahl’s daughter.

“We’ve always had a really good relationship with the Burke Museum,” said Jolene Williams, longhouse manager. “When we were going through the design phase for the Longhouse and Cultural Center, we got one of their curators to design our current exhibit so it would be museum worthy. We paid a lot of money to do that.

“[At the Burke], they took us in a back room and showed us all these items that are Duwamish, they actually pulled them out before we got there, and said, ‘When you build your Longhouse and Cultural Center and get your museum going, you can have these things on loan until something happens with your recognition, where they would be given back to you. They would be repatriated.’”