Duwamish Longhouse report #2: “This is our home now”

In 1851, when the first European-Americans arrived at Alki Point, the Dkhw’Duw’Absh occupied at least 17 villages, living in over 90 longhouses, and 6 Potlatch Houses (centers of spiritual and social gathering), along Elliott Bay, the Duwamish River, the Cedar River, the Black River (which no longer exists), Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Lake Sammamish. By 1910, nearly all of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh longhouses were destroyed by Non-Native arson.

–From “The Life of Si’ahl, ‘Chief Seattle’,” by Thomas Speer (read the story online here)

Nearly a century later, a historic event in West Seattle today, as our area’s First People opened their new longhouse to visitors:

That two-minute video clip follows singers, drummers, and other community members into the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse and Cultural Center immediately after today’s ribbon-cutting. Earlier, we published a quick update, with a few photos and a brief clip of the ribbon-cutting itself. But as we wrote then, there is so much more to show and tell you, if you were not able to be there. Click ahead for more video, and other highlights:

There was a welcome from Cecile Hansen, a descendant of Si’ahl who has been Duwamish Tribe chair for more than 30 years – of the longhouse, she proclaimed, “This is our home now”:

As you heard her mention, there was a standing-room only crowd — more than 200 people — once the speeches began in the meeting-room section of the longhouse. You can see it in this clip as longhouse director James Rasmussen walks through the audience, and back, booming cheerily at everyone, when it was his turn to speak:

The person Rasmussen referred to is Chad Lewis, a business professor at Everett Community College who volunteered as grant-writing fundraiser for the $4 million longhouse/cultural-center project (almost two-thirds of that money came from more than 30 grants, he said, while announcing more donations today, including money to help cover $30,000+ of last-minute work that pushed the dedication back from November). Lewis took a turn at centerstage today, thanking a long list of those who helped with money and/or time (they’re listed on the tribe’s website), and then reflecting on what’s ahead:

Lewis also happens to be a descendant of the Terry family, among Seattle’s original European-American settlers. He was not the only “descendant” to speak today: The crowd also heard from Amy Johnson, who traces her lineage to the Denny family. She organized other pioneers’ descendants into a committee that helped the Duwamish make the longhouse dream come true, in hopes of helping make up for the injustices of the past. She and other “descendants” were honored with gifts at today’s ceremony, including the shawl you see her wearing as she speaks in this clip:

Also extending gifts of healing, local religious leaders presented artwork and edibles to Duwamish chair Hansen:

Other tribes’ representatives came to offer gifts and join in the celebration. In the next clip, you see Rasmussen wearing a gift from, then thanking, Arnold Troeh, son of Chinook Tribe elder Catherine Troeh of Burien, who died last year at the age of 96 – days after attending the June 2007 Duwamish longhouse groundbreaking with her son:

The emotion today was tempered with a somber look at the fight the Duwamish have not yet won.

Lawyer Scott Wheat is with a firm that’s representing the Duwamish Tribe, pro bono, in its lawsuit seeking federal recognition — the recognition briefly granted by the Clinton Administration in its final days in 2001, then overturned at the start of the Bush presidency. In his no-nonsense five-minute speech, Wheat — a member of the Choctaw tribe — warned that this isn’t just a judicial fight, but one that must be fought politically as well, and one requiring help from everyone who believes it’s the right thing to do:

As you heard him say, he suggests contacting Sen. Maria Cantwell, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, and President-elect Barack Obama (Cantwell contact info here; Inslee info here; Obama info here). The other way you can help the tribe is to support its upcoming series of arts events, which Rasmussen said can be attended through purchase of a season ticket – $125 for a dozen events (or $25 each at the door), on sale at the longhouse gift shop — and the gala coming up June 13 (read more about it here). In the meantime, the culture of the Duwamish has a home near its namesake river’s shore, once more:

Beginning next week, the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center is expected to be open to the public 10 am-6 pm Mondays-Saturdays. It’s in the 4700 block of West Marginal Way, with parking on the west side of the building (the driveway is on its north side); here’s a map.

3 Replies to "Duwamish Longhouse report #2: "This is our home now" "

  • Scott B. January 3, 2009 (11:16 pm)

    If you like that sort of thing, you might like the book “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.” It was too depressing for me to finish reading the book even after several attempts.

    That’s the way it is. Human history is conquest/survival.

  • chas redmond January 4, 2009 (10:28 am)

    conquest/survival and – as the Longhouse dedication shows – hope for the future and reparations for the past.

  • Kayzel January 4, 2009 (6:43 pm)

    Thanks for attention paid to this important cultural and historic event. The Duwamish tribe’s survival through decades of broken promises is awe inspiring; its ability to forgive a lesson for all of us.

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