The Duwamish people have long tried to regain claim to their recognition and land. The lands that the ancestral Duwamish people have inhabited since time immemorial were taken at the time of white settlement in the 1850’s. Even though the Federal Government has failed as of yet to give recognition to the Duwamish as a tribe, they remain active in the pursuit of reclaiming the very artifacts that belong to their ancestral people.
In the 1960’s the Port of Seattle enforced eminent domain and purchased areas of land that were historically Duwamish villages. This particular area was also the last remaining portion of original and unchanged Duwamish River shoreline. As the clearing of the land began in 1975, in preparation to build Terminal 107, a startling discovery was unearthed. Ancient tribal artifacts were found embedded within the shoreline, thus the Duwamish #1 Archeological Site was established. This site was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Excavations occurred in 1978 and again in 1986, which revealed items such as stone projectile points and adze blades, as well as duck, deer, and elk remains/tools, stone bowls, jewelry, and baskets. Approximately 12,000 artifacts were regained from this site. It was noted by archeologists that this area had clearly been a village that was occupied over at least four different eras. Again only further providing evidence of Duwamish establishment in the area.
The Burke Museum at the University of Washington served as safe keeping for the items recovered from the Duwamish #1 Site. In late 2008, the Burke Museum loaned a number of the ancient excavated items to the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center to be put on display. The Duwamish Longhouse, which is located across the way from the Duwamish #1 Site, proudly displayed the artifacts that belonged to their ancestors. That was until July 2013, when the Port of Seattle had the Burke Museum seize the artifacts from the Duwamish Longhouse. The reason given was that the Port wished to have a complete catalog completed of the artifacts it owned. Although ownership is a strong position for the Port to assert, just because they took over the ancient lands of the Duwamish people does that mean they too own the artifacts created by the Duwamish people centuries ago?
Nevertheless, the artifacts were gathered by the Burke Museum and removed from their true home in the Duwamish Longhouse. Now, an empty case remains in the Longhouse where the artifacts of the Duwamish ancestors were once displayed. On February 27, 2014 it was released that the Port of Seattle considered the Duwamish artifacts as surplus and would be selling them. In a desperate plea, Duwamish Chairperson, Cecile Hansen, contacted the Port of Seattle yet again, asking for the items to be returned to the Duwamish people. Although it was previously understood by the tribe that the artifacts would be given to them, they would be willing to pay to re-claim ownership of their ancestor’s priceless belongings. The Port, however, did not give consideration to the Duwamish people and proceeded with a decision to give the artifacts to the federally recognized Suquamish and Muckleshoot tribes, a decision that is viewed as reprehensible by most. It is unknown when the Duwamish artifacts will be removed from the Burke Museum and transferred to the Suquamish and Muckleshoot tribes.
The Government removed recognition of the Duwamish tribe and now that very decision by the Government is being used as a deplorable reason to keep ancestral artifacts from the Duwamish people, where they truly belong.
“It would seem that best public good & cultural value would be to continue to display the artifacts from this site at the Seattle location where they were found” – Cecile Hansen, Duwamish Tribal Chairperson