On Saturday, while tens of thousands of people were marching downtown out of concern over the newly inaugurated administration, the White House transition was also a topic of discussion at the Duwamish Longhouse. The day was in part a celebration of the longhouse itself – completed and dedicated eight years ago – but it began with a focus on the Duwamish Tribe‘s continued quest for its treaty rights. Our video above is from a Q/A session that followed the Longhouse’s first screening of the new documentary “Promised Land,” which is about the Duwamish and Chinook Tribes’ struggle to get the federal government to honor those rights.
In our video, after lauding the filmmakers for their work, Duwamish chair Cecile Hansen answered questions (others were fielded by James Rasmussen and Ken Workman, also of the tribe). Hansen said she is “not too encouraged about the new administration, but you never know what could happen.” Rasmussen said they also are dealing with a change in who represents Seattle in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who just retired, was a longtime champion of the Duwamish pursuit of federal recognition; his newly elected successor, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, hasn’t been to the Longhouse, Rasmussen noted, and they don’t know whether she is supportive or not. He also explained, when asked for details of what would be different if they had treaty rights, that Duwamish youth are not recognized as Native Americans when enrolling in college – they have been offered the chance to do so if they enroll with a recognized tribe, but, Rasmussen said, usually decline.
Other tribes in the area have opposed Duwamish treaty rights, Rasmussen went on to say, because of concerns over casino competition. The Duwamish have “no plan to build a casino – never has been a plan,” he said, but he also said that when once offered the chance at recognition if they permanently renounced that option, they put the question to their membership and they said no, “we’re not giving up anything.”
Hansen, by the way, says she’s writing a book. She’s been fighting for the treaty rights for more than 40 years; the tribe briefly gained recognition in the final days of the Clinton Administration, saw it subsequently canceled by the Bush Administration, and then came another denial, from the Obama Administration, in summer 2015.
(August 2015 WSB photo)
As you will also hear her say in the video – and as we reported here a year and a half ago – she took the Duwamish’s case directly to now-former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, a West Seattle resident (photo above). While Jewell touted the department’s work with tribes in her farewell, that didn’t include any progress for the Duwamish, Hansen noted. “If she had brought the tribes together, we would not be suffering with this non-status. … She should have done more for the Duwamish people.”