The Duwamish tribal chairwoman says the tribe’s battle for recognition isn’t over, even though the Department of the Interior recently denied it.
Cecile Hansen’s brother came to her one day in 1974, upset that he had been cited for fishing in the Duwamish River. He was fishing in a river named after their people, even though the U.S. government didn’t recognize them as a tribe.
“He said, ‘you’ve got to get involved,’ ” Hansen, the Duwamish chairwoman, recalled. “He said, ‘you’ll just go to a few meetings.’ ”
That was more than 40 years ago, and the Duwamish still aren’t recognized by the federal government as a tribe. The U.S. Department of the Interior issued its final decision last week, saying the department had determined the Duwamish are not entitled to acknowledgment as an Indian tribe.
Standing in the Duwamish Longhouse on Wednesday, Hansen said the decades-long pursuit for federal recognition isn’t over, even though the Department of the Interior emphasized its decision was final.
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“We will continue to fight on,” said Hansen, 79, a descendant of Chief Seattle.
Hansen said the Duwamish, which has about 600 descendants, is still working to “formulate our battle,” but there likely will be a legal appeal and attempts through legislation. The Duwamish Tribal Recognition Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, was referred to the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs in May.
“We may not sit on a designated reservation, but we are here,” Hansen said. “We’re not invisible.”
The department’s letter to Hansen, sent July 2, said the Duwamish would be informed of alternative ways to achieve federal recognition.
Federal recognition makes tribal members and governments eligible for budget, education and health services. Federally recognized tribes are considered sovereign nations, with a government-to-government relationship with the United States.
There are more than 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, a Virginia tribe with about 200 members, was found to have met all criteria and granted federal recognition on the same day the department denied the Duwamish.
The department said in its decision it didn’t find sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Duwamish had been identified as an “American Indian entity” on a continuous basis since 1900. It also said there was no evidence the Duwamish comprise a distinct community and had existed “as a community from historical times until the present.”
Despite the decision, other supporters at the Duwamish Longhouse on Wednesday emphasized the tribe’s role in Seattle’s Native community.
“I’m a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother,” said Florence Kay Fiddler, Ojibwe, whose family often goes to the Longhouse. “That’s all the authority I need to recognize the Duwamish.”
The Duwamish submitted its first petition for federal recognition in 1977, then revised the petition in 1989. In 2001, a Department of the Interior official approved the petition for federal recognition in the final days of the Clinton administration, but the recognition was overturned by the Bush administration.