Duwamish leader Cecile Hansen feels love in Seattle’s Sister City Perugia, Italy

From left, Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen is greeted by Perugia Deputy Mayor Teresa Severini during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Perugia and Seattle’s Sister City relationship. (Courtesy of Marylin Bard)

Richard Walker

The U.S. broken relationship with the Duwamish Tribe - with whom the U.S. signed a treaty - is a curiosity to Perugians

Duwamish Tribe Chairwoman Cecile Hansen has been fighting for 42 years to get the United States of America to recognize her Tribe, whose 1850s leader – Chief Si’ahl, or Chief Seattle – was first to sign a treaty making a large swath of Western Washington available to newcomers.

While the United States is late to the party, Hansen is feeling the love from Perugia, Italy. She was an honored guest at Perugia’s 25th anniversary of its Sister City relationship with Seattle, home of the Duwamish Tribe, Oct. 9-12.

Perugian students created a display about the story, “Raven Steals the Sun,” which was shared with them by Marylin Bard, Quinault/Isleta Pueblo, sister of noted artist Marvin Oliver and cousin of Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Oliver Hansen. (Courtesy of Marylin Bard)

Hansen, Chief Seattle’s great-great-grandniece, was invited by Perugia’s mayor to participate in the week-long celebration. Hansen was accompanied by her daughter, Jolene Haas; and cousin, Marylin Oliver Bard.

Hansen gave a presentation, “Hands Up! We are the People of the Inside,” at Perugia’s Centro Studi Americanistici Circolo Amerindiano (Center for American Indian Studies); visited Assisi, birthplace of St. Francis; and was recognized at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the installment in Perugia of “Sister Orca,” a large sculpture of an orca dorsal fin by noted Quinault/Isleta Pueblo artist Marvin Oliver, Hansen’s cousin.

Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen is photographed Oct. 12 in front of “Sister Orca,” a sculpture created by her cousin, Marvin Oliver, Quinault/Isleta Pueblo, for the City of Perugia. The 10th anniversary of the sculpture’s installation coincided with the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Perugia and Seattle’s Sister City relationship. (Courtesy of Marylin Bard)

Perugian students participated Oct. 12 in the 10th anniversary of the installation of “Sister Orca,” a sculpture by artist Marvin Oliver, Quinault/Isleta Pueblo, to honor Perugia and Seattle’s Sister City relationship. (Photo: Jolene Haas)

Perugia is located in the heart of the historical territory of the Etruscans; many Perugians are descendants of the Etruscans and consider themselves to be Italy’s indigenous people. Dionysius, the Greek historian in the time of Caesar Augustus, wrote that the Etruscans appeared to have “migrated from nowhere else,” and were “a very ancient nation” with a unique language and “manner of living.”

Perugia’s indigenous renaissance fueled an interest in America’s indigenous cultures – in particular, because of its Sister City relationship, the Duwamish of Seattle.

Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen and her daughter, Jolene Haas, arrived in Perugia, Italy on Oct. 8 for a weeklong celebration of the 25th anniversary of Perugia and Seattle’s Sister City relationship. (Photo: Marylin Bard)

The United States’ broken relationship with the Duwamish Tribe is a curiosity to Perugians, who don’t understand why the U.S. won’t recognize people with whom they signed a treaty. The Duwamish Tribe was recognized in the waning hours of the Clinton administration, but recognition was overturned by the George W. Bush administration. The last Duwamish Tribal Recognition Act sat untouched in Congress, the perennial effort retiring in 2016 with its perennial sponsor, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle.

“The people who attended the [“Hands Up!”] presentation were very excited to learn about the history of the Duwamish,” Bard said. “They’re still trying to understand why the United States doesn’t recognize the Duwamish Tribe.”

Federal recognition of the Duwamish Tribe would establish a government-to-government relationship between the Duwamish Tribe and federal, state and local governments. “The City of Perugia recognizes the Duwamish,” Hansen said. “The U.S. needs to wake up and recognize Seattle’s people.”

Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen and her daughter, Jolene Haas, meet with a staff member of the Center for American Indian Studies (Centro StudI Americanistici Circolo Amerindiano) in Perugia, Italy, during a weeklong celebration of the 25th anniversary of Perugia and Seattle’s Sister City relationship. Perugian interest in America’s indigenous peoples is strong; Perugians are descendants of the Etruscans, believed to be Italy’s First People. (Photo: Marylin Bard)

Relationship between the Duwamish Tribe, Perugia

Haas said the celebration’s organizers and hosts were “very gracious and respectful” to Hansen and the Duwamish Tribe. Here’s what she said the United States could learn from Perugia.

“The people of Perugia, and especially the Center for Indigenous Studies, are fascinated with the history of indigenous cultures all over the world,” Haas said. “They are just as committed as ethnologists and historians in the United States in the study of other cultures and providing a platform to help inform the students, citizens and the general public. They have worked hard to create a space to grow the study of indigenous cultures.

A flier introduces Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen, who gave a presentation on Duwamish history and Chief Si’ahl, or Seattle, on Oct. 9 at the Center for American Indian Studies in Perugia, Italy. Hansen is a great-great-grandniece of Si’ahl. (Courtesy Marylin Bard)

“What I have learned is that they have no preconception or value for the politics that disenfranchise the Duwamish as an unrecognized ‘Tribe’ in the United States. They have learned from history books written on the subject extensively of how many if not all Native People have been treated by the United States government -- from genocide, broken treaties, and displacement. What I think can be learned is that the Perugians see value in Native people, and especially the Duwamish, in striving to maintain their culture and identity in a country that has historically been unfriendly to Native people.

Haas said the relationship between the Duwamish Tribe and Perugia will continue.

Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen, center wearing hat and holding purse, poses for a photo with Perugian officials during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Perugia and Seattle’s Sister City relationship. (Photo: Jolene Haas)

“We would like to continue to work with Perugia to bring them more cultural materials and items to add as part of their larger collection,” Haas said. “We would like to continue to work with the schools in Perugia in a cultural exchange to learn about Pacific Northwest Coast Salish. Since Perugia is a Sister City with the City of Seattle, it only makes sense that they learn that the city was named after a real person that lived to bring peace between the settlers in the Pacific Northwest and the indigenous people, the Duwamish/Suquamish. The naming of the City of Seattle after Chief Seattle is a bold statement. It exemplifies what the city is supposed to stand for -- inclusion.

“We are also having a Peace Pole installed at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center in November to solidify that connection and relationship of friendship and cultural exchange, as a marker that will establish our commitment to our relationship and their eagerness to learn about the history of Seattle.”

The current state of affairs for the Duwamish Tribe

The Duwamish Tribe is getting some new support at home from a growing crowdsource movement: Real Rent Duwamish (www.realrentduwamish.org).

More than 1,100 Seattle-area residents and businesses have pledged to donate monthly to the Duwamish Tribe as “rent” for the Duwamish land they inhabit.

“Though the city named for the Duwamish leader Chief Seattle thrives, the Tribe has yet to be justly compensated for their land, resources and livelihood,” www.realrentduwamish.org states. “You can do something today to stand in solidarity with the First Peoples of this land by paying Real Rent.”

All funds go to Duwamish Tribal Services “to support the revival of Duwamish culture and the vitality of the Duwamish Tribe.”

Chief Si’ahl (anglicized as Seattle) was the first of 82 leaders from 22 indigenous nations to sign the “Treaty with the Dwamish, Suquamish, etc.” on Jan. 22, 1855 at Point Elliott, in Mukilteo, 25 miles north of Seattle. The treaty made a swath of land in the Puget Sound area available to newcomers, in exchange for certain remuneration and guarantees of continued access to resources in the treaty signers’ historical territory. After the treaty was signed, many Duwamish people went to reservations established at Muckleshoot and Port Madison.

Hansen and other members of the Tribe she chairs are descendants of Duwamish people who declined to go to reservations, choosing instead to stay in Seattle. But the United States considers the Muckleshoot Tribe and Suquamish Tribe — not the Duwamish Tribe — to be successors to the treaty-era Duwamish. A 1974 federal court ruling in U.S. v. Washington, which upheld treaty fishing rights, determined those rights applied only to Tribes on reservations. The Duwamish Tribe was omitted from U.S. v. Washington. The Duwamish Tribe was recognized in the waning hours of the Clinton administration, but recognition was overturned by the George W. Bush administration.

In a video interview over social media Oct. 10, Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen said opposition from other Tribes has been the primary obstacle to U.S. recognition. But she said that opposition has come from those Tribes’ leaders, not their constituents.

Hansen said those leaders fear Duwamish wants to build a gaming facility that would siphon revenue from them. “That’s not why I began fighting this battle 41 years ago,” she said.

She wants her people to be able to enjoy rights guaranteed in the treaty their ancestors signed – including the right to harvest fish in their usual and accustomed areas – and a formal role in management of salmon populations and habitat protection. The treaty guarantees Treaty Tribes and non-Indians each 50 percent of the available harvest.

On the Real Rent website, a resident explained why she chose to pay what she could afford -- $20 a month -- in “rent” to the Duwamish Tribe.

"I pay Real Rent to the Duwamish Tribe monthly because as a white settler on this land, it is my responsibility to acknowledge the land I live on belongs to the Tribe and they deserve to be compensated by all of us, regardless of what our government has determined.” (In 1971, the United States paid 1,000 Duwamish people $64 each for the land acquired in the treaty 116 years earlier -- a total of $64,000 for 54,000 acres of land.)

Another “renter” wrote on the site: “I choose to pay rent to the Duwamish because I love this land that I live in and know that the Duwamish have lived in it and cared for it for countless generations. I believe it is essential to our collective future for indigenous peoples to be able to inhabit their ancestral lands, and to be seen, known, and honored by their settler neighbors.”

Hansen was touched by the donors’ sense of social justice. “So many people support us. There are people from all over the Puget Sound,” Hansen said. “I just love these people who love the Duwamish.”

Richard Walker, Mexican/Yaqui, is an ICT correspondent reporting from Anacortes, Washington. Contact him at richardmollywalker@gmail.com.