SEATTLE ? When the fist white settlers steered their boat into Puget Sound 150 years ago, they landed at a natural harbor on a narrow isthmus that became the city of Seattle. There they met the Duwamish tribe who like the Wampanoags of Massachusetts made sure that the newcomers did not starve.
In fact, though Chief Seattle has been known to the annals of history as a Suquamish tribal member, the famed chief's mother was actually Duwamish and current Tribal Chairwoman Cecile Hansen is the great-great-grandniece of Chief Seattle.
Now 150 years later, the emerald city of Seattle celebrated its sesquicentennial last week in grand style that included a complete reenactment of the original boat landing of the schooner Exact, which carried surnames of several prominent Seattle citizens to this day.
However, what made this ordinary celebration extraordinary was the reception given to Hansen and the Duwamish tribe. One by one these same descendants spoke up and thanked the Duwamish for helping their ancestors.
Even historian David Buerge weighed in and spoke of the struggles by the current tribe. And it has been quite a struggle for the tribe as of late. After securing an 11th hour document of recognition from the Clinton administration in January, the tribe saw its fortunes fall in September as the Bush administration did an about face and stripped the tribe of its new status.
The Seattle sesquicentennial then was a little bittersweet for the Duwamish if not a bit ironic. Chairwoman Hansen participated in ceremonies that included not only the city council and Mayor Paul Schell, but the governor of Washington Gary Locke as well.
"Yeah, it is a little strange that we had our federal recognition taken away and then being invited to participate in ceremonies with the mayor, governor and all these prominent citizens," Hansen said.
She said the entire process that stripped the 560-member tribe of its federal recognition confuses her and she questioned some of the individual findings of the BIA reversal. She claims the BIA decided that the tribe did not exist as a community in the 1920s though she was able to produce a document that showed the tribe's constitution was written in 1925.
Keith Parsky, who works in BIA administration, said that the Duwamish were not singled out and were part of a more sweeping review of last-minute decisions made by the Clinton administration.
"It was a review of every decision made by the previous administration shortly before they left office. Every department, right across the board was affected," Parsky said.
He said the bureau found the tribe did not meet all seven criteria required for federal recognition.
A review of the BIA document itself shows that the bureau found an inconsistency between censuses taken in 1915 and again in 1926 where only a small percentage of the same names existed.
One source familiar with the issue, who agreed to speak to Indian Country Today on condition of anonymity, said that this was typical of the times when it was perhaps more beneficial for the citizens to deny their American Indian ancestry, thus accounting for the discrepancy.
However, Parsky said that the tribe still has many legal avenues in which to appeal the case. These include BIA administrative procedures, the federal courts and finally the United States Congress.
Hansen said her group plans to meet with local members of Congress in hopes of securing recognition. She said the laudatory statements by descendants of the original white pioneers at the sesquicentennial celebration are a big boost.
In fact, Hansen said that many of the tribe's supporters are prominent local whites, one of whom, a real estate developer, paid $10,000 out of pocket to help the tribe secure a half acre land base. Local whites are also helping to raise funds for a Duwamish cultural center that will house not only tribal activities but also be a venue for Seattle area school children on field trips.
Hansen acknowledged it is easier to get respect and support in Seattle, one of the most progressive and left-leaning cities in the United States, than in the more conservative climate of the Bush administration.
Washington does not have a state recognition program and sources in Gov. Gary Locke's office said they have no position on the tribe seeking federal recognition and Locke's appearances with Hansen do not have any deeper implications.
Though the Duwamish may feel slighted by the Bush administration, the anonymous source placed the blame squarely on the Clinton administration.
"The Clinton administration had eight years in which they could have granted the Duwamish recognition, yet waited until the last minute. If this is anyone's fault it's theirs."