The Duwamish people have never stopped fighting the battle for their rights, keeping their culture alive, and their recognition. The people who have been evidenced as having inhabited the greater King County lands since the last ice age had their land taken from them and never returned. Since the arrival of European-Americans to the shore of Alki in 1851, the Duwamish people were kind and accommodating and provided protection and resources to the newcomers. This generosity was responded to with persecution.
On January 22, 1855, Washington Territorial Governor, Isaac Stevens, had chiefs and headsmen of local tribe’s sign the Treaty of Point Elliott. Demonstrating his importance, Chief Si’ahl, leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, was the first name on the treaty for signature. This treaty created a government to government relationship between the United States and the tribes and promised rights to lands, fishing and hunting. These promises, however, have yet to have been kept for the Duwamish. In the City that was named after Chief Si’ahl, the newly elected City fathers passed 12 new laws, one of which banished the Duwamish and native people from living within the City limits. The same City limits that consists of the majority of the ancestral lands of the Duwamish people. United States Indian Agent, Thomas Paige recommended in 1866 that the Duwamish be given a reservation land of their own. However, the European-American residents of the area quickly protested and signed a petition asserting that an area of land would be of little or no value to the Duwamish.
In 1925 the Duwamish Tribal Organization (DTO) was formed, and since has been working to obtain recognition as a tribe by the Federal government. A lawsuit was filed by the DTO for the value of the approximate 54,000 acres of land taken without compensation and a judgment of $62,000 or $64 per person was awarded to the Duwamish tribe. In 1976 a petition was submitted for Federal recognition as an Indian tribe to the Secretary of the Interior. After a preliminary denial, a revised petition for Federal recognition as an Indian tribe was submitted again by the Duwamish tribe in 1988. In the meantime, as there was no means of providing cultural or social services through government funding, a non-profit 501[C] 3 organization named Duwamish Tribal Services was formed. Without Federal recognition, Duwamish Tribal Services works hard but also struggles to provide cultural education and services to its’ community members. A decision was provided in 1996 by the Secretary of the Interior’s Office that the DTO did not meet three of the seven criteria in place at the time for being considered a federally recognized tribe under title 25 part 83 of the Code of Federal Regulation. Again, the Duwamish Tribal Services revised the petition and re-submitted the document in October of 1998.
Finally, after over a century of endeavoring, on January 19, 2001 the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs awarded Federal recognition to the Duwamish tribe. The long-fought battle was finally won and some of the wrong done to the tribe would finally begin to be righted…. or so it seemed.
The happiness and celebration associated with being recognized was short lived. The idea of finally receiving the recognition and rights that were so long overdue and deserved were once again stripped away. The original decision for approval came in at the end of the Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration had different thoughts on recognition for the Duwamish tribe. By September 2001 the decision had been reversed and by May 2002 the Secretary of the Interior refused to refer the Duwamish petition for any further consideration.
Even with this heart-wrenching and devastating decision, the Duwamish people did not give up. With no other source of funding for support of cultural and educational activities, Duwamish Management Corporation, a for-profit organization, was formed to create businesses that would generate revenue to fund programs and the survival of the culture. A huge triumph was reached in February 2004 when the tribe finally had the funding and opportunity to purchase land near an ancestral village land by the Duwamish River. Saturday January 3, 2009 marked another significant progression for rebuilding a Duwamish home, the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center was opened. A traditional cedar longhouse was built on the land that was purchased and now serves as a place for cultural education, ceremonies and activities. While many of their traditional artifacts have been taken and given away due to lack of recognition the community continues to gather and rebuild and recreate.
But the legal battle continues. On March 22, 2013 in the Western District United States District Court, Judge John Coughenour awarded Summary Judgment on the Duwamish Tribes Motion for reconsideration of the 2001 denial of Federal recognition. Judge Coughenour made the decision to instruct the Secretary of the Interior to revisit and review their position on recognition for the Duwamish under the 1994 regulations rather than the 1978 regulations, which was originally used as the basis of denial. Following, on June 19, 2013, Washington State House of Representative, Jim McDermott introduced bill H.R. 2442 the Duwamish Tribal Recognition Act, asking the Committee on Natural Resources to pass the bill to the House and the Senate. To date, no further action has been taken on the proposed bill H.R. 2442.
After 159 years of struggling but persevering the Duwamish are facing what is likely their last chance at an argument for Federal recognition, a recognition that never should have been removed in the first place.
The Duwamish tribe has recently been granted a six month extension to raise $100,000 needed to hire an expert witness to review 31,000 pages sent by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Donations to the tribe can be made through their website at http://duwamishtribe.org/give.html