Duwamish Tribe tries again to get its cultural artifacts back

(Empty artifact case post-removal; 2013 photo courtesy Duwamish Longhouse)
The Duwamish Tribe says it’s still trying to get its artifacts back. Last August, news emerged that the Port of Seattle was deciding the fate of artifacts found on historic tribal land that it now controls. Today, according to this news release sent by the tribe tonight, they received official confirmation their artifacts will be given to a tribe that unlike the Duwamish has federal recognition (something the Duwamish have long fought for). The news release is followed by the text of the letter to which it refers.

The Duwamish Tribe would like its cultural artifacts back. Last July, the Burke Museum was paid by the Port of Seattle to confiscate $800 worth of Duwamish cultural artifacts on display at the Duwamish Longhouse & Center. The artifacts were from the Duwamish #1 Archeological Site, an old Duwamish camp and village site across the street from the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center.

The tribe received a call from the Burke Museum today that the artifacts will be given to the Muckleshoot Tribe in Auburn.

Unknown to the Duwamish Tribe, 2 years ago the Port of Seattle declared that it wanted to surplus its archeological artifacts including those from the Duwamish Archeological Site #1 bordered by the Duwamish River and W Marginal Way SW.

How did the Port come to own the archeological artifacts? In the early 60’s, the Port declared eminent domain, and bought out the interests of area residents to make way for the building of Terminal 107. Because of environmental issues, the terminal was never built. The area was also the site of the last original shoreline of the Duwamish River. As the land was being cleared, the Duwamish #1 Archeological Site was discovered and dug in the 1970’s. The archeological site is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been set aside as a public park. The Port retains ownership of the site.

The Duwamish Tribe has sent a letter to the Port proposing to buy back its culture artifacts for display at the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center.

“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.“

Ahead, the text of the letter mentioned above, included in tonight’s e-mail to us from the tribe, carrying today’s date:

To: Tay Yoshitani, CEO, Port of Seattle

Dear Port of Seattle:

We understand that you have declared the Duwamish cultural artifacts from the Duwamish Archeological Site #1 and World Trade Center surplus property.

We would like to buy back the Duwamish artifacts that were removed from the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center last July. We understand that their value to be about $800 according to the Burke Museum. They are, of course, priceless to us.

As your staff is aware, the Duwamish Tribe built the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center across the street from the Duwamish Archeological Site #1 in part to house these artifacts and interpret the site. We believe that we have an agreement with the Port of Seattle from the 1970’s that these site #1 artifacts would be returned to the Duwamish.

We are deeply disturbed that the Port has not included the Duwamish in the disposition of our cultural artifacts or honored its previous agreement. Although we believe we have both a right and previous agreement to keep these artifacts, we are offering to buy back our cultural artifacts.

We understand that the Port’s claim of ownership of our Duwamish cultural artifacts is based on its current ownership of the Duwamish ancestral lands. The Port still owns the Duwamish Archeological Site #1–a public park on the National Register of Historic Places. It is next to the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center. 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.

We look forward to your consideration of this matter.


Cecile Hansen
Duwamish Tribal Chairperson

cc: Port Commissioners

When the artifacts’ removal from the Longhouse Cultural Center was reported last summer, we contacted the port for more information, and received this copy (PDF) of a letter the port had sent the tribe, saying they had asked the Burke Museum to “recall” artifacts it had loaned the Longhouse in 2008. The port’s letter said that it was recalling artifacts for a “rehabilitation effort which includes Re-Housing and Cataloging of our entire inventory of collections stored at the Burke and any and all materials that may be on loan from our collections. The rehabilitation project is necessary to ensure access to the collections for future study and display and to properly house and protect the items for many years to come.”

37 Replies to "Duwamish Tribe tries again to get its cultural artifacts back"

  • miws February 27, 2014 (10:49 pm)

    I wish The Duwamish could claim eminent domain on the Port. This is reprehensible.


    It seems to me, that those artifacts rightfully belong to the Duwamish, and they should in no way have to pay to get them back.



  • Jennie February 27, 2014 (11:04 pm)

    I totally agree with Mike…lets break this stupid chain.
    The artifacts are part of the Duwamish history and has nothing to do with the Port of Seattle.

  • miws February 27, 2014 (11:29 pm)

    I sent the following to the Port.


    I used their online comment form; https://www.portseattle.org/About/Contact/Pages/default.aspx as I couldn’t find e-mail addys for the individual Commissioners:


    Dear Mr. Yoshitani, and Port Commissioners,

    I am writing in regard to the Port’s confiscation of the Duwamish Tribal Artifacts that were removed last July from the Duwamish Longhouse, done so by the Burke Museum.

    Apparently, the Port now wants to give the Artifacts to the Muckleshoot Tribe, because unlike the Duwamish, the Muckleshoot are Federally Recognized.

    The fact that the Duwamish are NOT Federally Recognized, is yet another matter, that is an insult to the Tribe, as they had been given Recognition many years back by President Clinton, and then that Recognition was promptly taken away by President G.W. Bush, upon his Inauguration.

    But that’s not the immediate issue at hand.

    I believe that the Duwamish Tribe should be the legal owners of the Artifacts, Eminent Domain imposed decades ago, or not. I urge the Port to give them back to the Duwamish.

    The Duwamish have offered to pay the $800.00 reported value of the Artifacts, so I urge to Port to at least honor that request, although I think it is an incredible insult to the Duwamish Peoples to have to do so.

    Thank You,

  • dsa February 28, 2014 (12:03 am)

    C’mon, Port and Burke, have a little heart for these folks.

  • cruzer February 28, 2014 (7:07 am)

    It belongs to the Duwamish Tribe, give it back!

  • miws February 28, 2014 (7:37 am)

    Please, anyone commenting here, or even just reading this, send the Port a quick note, if you haven’t done so already. Let’s put the pressure on them.




    I also shared this on Facebook.



  • Joe Szilagyi February 28, 2014 (7:59 am)

    How close or far are they from Federal recognition now?

    • WSB February 28, 2014 (8:16 am)

      Joe – Seattle’s U.S. House Rep. Jim McDermott reintroduces the bill from time to time, but it continues to languish. As noted in this news release issued by his office last year, there was a judicial move about a year ago that theoretically cleared some of the debris off the path – http://mcdermott.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=692:mcdermott-reintroduces-duwamish-tribal-recognition-act&catid=25&Itemid=20 … I will ask Rep. McDermott’s office for an updated status while following up on the Duwamish news release (which arrived relatively late last night, too late to reach anyone for reaction) – TR
      8:57 am update … Rep. McDermott’s office has acknowledged our inquiry and is checking.

  • Joan February 28, 2014 (8:09 am)

    This is an outrage! I would hope that the Muckleshoots would return the items to the Duwamish, in the spirit of native brotherhood.

  • Elikapeka February 28, 2014 (8:21 am)

    Outrageous – I’ve contacted the Port.

  • AG February 28, 2014 (8:36 am)

    This is absolutely disgusting. The Duwamish should be recognized, and this is their property whether they’re recognized or not. The Port has NO RIGHT to take it or sell it. It’s reprehensible.

  • Disgusted February 28, 2014 (8:56 am)

    Thanks to those who provided the comment link.

    Sent my 2 cents:

    I’m writing about the return of cultural artifacts to the Duwamish Tribe. I read a horrifying article on the West Seattle blog today about items in the Port’s possession and want to make a plea that they be returned to the Duwamish Tribe immediately. Whether or not the Tribe is federally recognized is of no relevance; this Tribe is known and recognized by our community, and the artifacts you removed from their native lands should have been returned to the Tribe long ago. Shame on anyone who has delayed this process — you should be embarrassed to have taken the Tribe’s land and then stolen its artifacts in the first place. It’s time to right this incredible wrong.

  • Debbie February 28, 2014 (9:02 am)

    The Duwamish received tribal recognition from the Clinton Administration and it was rescinded by the Bush Administration. Because the Bush Administration did not correctly sign the orders, this federal action is now in court on this technicality.

    The Muckleshoot have fought the Duwamish tribal recognition petition every step of the way.

  • miws February 28, 2014 (9:18 am)

    Thanks for checking with Rep. McDermott, WSB.



  • Nancy February 28, 2014 (9:21 am)

    I am just astonished that this thing has happened to the Duwamish tribe. The artifacts should be returned to the Longhouse and they shouldn’t have to pay for what is rightfully theirs. Those items and the tribes identity may not be of import to those who make such decisions but it is important to the Duwamish. I am reasonably certain that the Port Commissioner and others would not appreciate it if someone were to come into their house/yard and remove something of value and say this is not yours anymore.

    Please Return those items to the Duwamish Longhouse. I am not a native American but I support their request and I am a voter.

  • Peeb February 28, 2014 (9:53 am)

    Email sent!

  • cut to the heart of it February 28, 2014 (10:45 am)

    Tracy –

    please make inquiry of the Muckleshoot Tribe and ask for a comment regarding the overall situation so folks can see what it is going on.

  • cut to the heart of it February 28, 2014 (11:18 am)

    While we are all getting outraged again, how about also seeking comments from the Port and from The Burke on the specifics for the authority and for a process for such dispositions. Where is that authority and process delineated and documented?

    It’s all a legalistic quagmire – an expensive one – which the tribe doesn’t have $$ to sue as it must to survive this type of bs.

    That would be edifying, if not interesting.

  • Dan February 28, 2014 (11:24 am)

    This is shameful. Do the right thing port of seattle..

  • Dennis Burns February 28, 2014 (11:26 am)

    Outragous, the Port of Seattle had no claim to these artifacts and had no business having the Burke Museum getting involved. I have enjoyed my visits to the Duwaish long house and seeing what’s left of an earlier culture. Now where can these items be seen?
    Port of Seattle stay out of Indian affairs!

  • finbar February 28, 2014 (11:43 am)

    As a registered voter I have contacted the Port of Seattle commissioners regarding this issue.
    “As a registered voter I ask that you consider the request of the Duwamish tribe regarding the purchase of cultural artifacts.

    I support the Duwamish tribe in this matter.

  • Dirk February 28, 2014 (12:29 pm)

    FYI the contact page on the port does NOT work in Chrome. Firefox seems to work.

    I will suffice it to say it’s completely absurd that a basic html form cannot be submitted through any browser on the port’s website.

  • Kristina February 28, 2014 (12:51 pm)

    I used the links to send in my support of the return of these items to the Duwamish people, as well.

    If everyone reading this did the same, imagine the impact we would make!

    I support the Duwamish tribe in this matter, and in obtaining legal recognition as well.

  • Steve Russell February 28, 2014 (1:07 pm)

    I have mailed the Port as follows:

    Tay Yoshitani, CEO

    Port of Seattle

    P.O. Box 1209
    Seattle, WA 98111

    Re: Artifacts, Duwamish Archaeological Site 1/World Trade Center surplus property

    Dear Port of Seattle:

    I am a longtime supporter of the Burke Museum and a longtime Seattle resident. I have visited the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center on several occasions: the center is a key cultural asset of our city and region and a place I offer to take out-of-town visitors when they want to learn about the history, background, and living culture of our first citizens.

    I have personally viewed the artifacts in question.

    I am frankly astonished and appalled that the Port would have confiscated Duwamish artifacts from the representatives of the Duwamish people in the first place, and simply disgusted to learn that the Port has now directed that these artifacts be alienated from the Duwamish (and instead turned over to the Muckleshoot, who have no cognizable moral, ethical, or legal claim to them whatsoever). You are not only depriving the first people of Seattle of their cultural patrimony, but depriving Seattle residents and visitors of the opportunity to benefit from the educational opportunity and visceral impact of viewing these artifacts in a traditional setting only a stone’s throw from where they were unearthed.

    This is simple robbery and hardly comports with the standards of conduct we expect the Port to uphold in any interaction with the public at large, or with its contractors or suppliers, much less with a tribe that has had to survive and endure decades of exploitation and expropriation.

    It is doubly unfortunate that the Burke Museum, with its well-demonstrated and long-term empathy with local native art and culture, should now find itself embroiled in this shameful behavior, even if only as an innocent go-between.

    I thoroughly and entirely endorse Chairperson Cecile Hansen’s email letter to you of February 27, 2014. The Port should immediately reverse its nonsensical and offensive decision, and direct the Burke to promptly return all of the artifacts in question to the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center. Inarguably, this is the best and only appropriate home for these artifacts.

  • Chuck Hastings February 28, 2014 (3:11 pm)

    The Port of Seattle should return the Duwamish artifacts to the Duwamish Tribe, Federal recognition or no Federal Recognition. The Muckleshoot Tribe should not be involved.

  • unknown February 28, 2014 (5:25 pm)

    Come on Mr. Yoshitani help give what’s rightfully theirs back to the Duwamish Tribe, you and I (1/2 Japanese) should know how it feels to have something that belongs to you unjustly taken away from you, or should I say our Parents/Grand Parents.

  • Kristen February 28, 2014 (8:42 pm)

    This might be a silly question, but why would the muckelshoot want artifacts that are from the Duwamish tribe? I don’t know much about tribal history. Do these two tribes overlap in some way?

  • cut to the heart of it February 28, 2014 (10:36 pm)

    Greeeeeat question Kristen. Not silly at all. That’s background and context which is rarely discussed. People need to know. And decision makers need to know.

    Look at their websites for starters. Then ask the tribe. Then ask the Port.

  • RG March 1, 2014 (2:02 pm)

    Kristen, from what I understand the Duwamish were displaced several times in the 1850s because their land was where the city of Seattle was being built, they were said to have aided Leschi, and were involved in the Puget Sound Indian War. They tried to return to their land several times but were burnt out of their homes by white settlers. So, to make them go away they were assigned to go stay with other tribes or bands, one of which was the Muckleshoot because they were said to be related, what with both living on or near rivers, and also I think their dialects were similar.

  • Duwamish Longhouse March 1, 2014 (6:27 pm)

    Krisen: Respectfully, you are wrong the Duwamish did not participate in the Battle of Seattle in 1856. Check it out at history link http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5208

    The Duwamish were never assiged to the Muckleshoot Reservation. It is a latter add on to the Medicine Creek Treaty for the Puyallups not the Point Elliot Treaty.

  • RG March 1, 2014 (11:14 pm)

    I went to look at my books and see where I would have got those ideas. (btw, is The Battle of Seattle the same thing as the Puget Sound Indian War?) . A Guide to Indian Tribes of the Northwest (3rd ed) by Ruby, Brown, and Collins. Page 117. That whole first paragraph on that page. The use of the word ‘elements’ is rather confusing. Remembered Drums: A history of the Puget Sound Indian War by JA Eckrom. Pages 13 and 121. Indians of the Pacific Northwest by Vine Deloria Jr. pages 40 and 45.
    Thanks for the info.
    PS I hope you get your artifacts back. I’ll send an email as well and post it here.

  • RG March 2, 2014 (12:07 am)

    Dear Mr. Yoshitani, and Port Commissioners,
    As a Seattle citizen, resident of West Seattle, who supports the return of the Duwamish artifacts to the Duwamish, please consider the following points:
    The Duwamish have a moral claim to them because they are a part of their tribal history; their ancestral lands. As cultural property the items are relevant to the reclamation of the Duwamish culture after having been historically deprived of everything else.
    Everyone agrees that having the artifacts accessible to the public is educationally beneficial to all. But why have them on “display” somewhere, or stowed away in a box, when they can be “housed” in their place of origin that provides them historical context? What better place for these items than in a cedar longhouse that is the tribal headquarters and cultural center of the Duwamish themselves?
    The educational value of the items will increase because they will be at their place of origin, which will serve to highlight our region’s fascinating history through learning experiences guided by the cultural center.
    People deserve to see these items in context, inside the Duwamish longhouse. They are artifacts surly, but inside the longhouse and cultural center they are treasures – and who better to care for them than the First People themselves?
    Lastly, I have yet to meet anyone who would disagree with the return of the artifacts to the Duwamish. A monetary price of $800 does not compare to the sociocultural importance these items have on behalf of the Duwamish people.

  • sophista-tiki March 2, 2014 (7:20 am)

    Well I just lost some respect for the Burke. Repatriatoion laws do exist and they have nothi ng to do with being ” federally recognized” This sounds like some petty beurocratic show of fake authority by someone at the Burke who thinks everything belongs to them. Then when they got the artifacts decided they weren’t important enough to keep in the collection. BTW have you ever been in collection storage at the Burke, believe me they’ve got plenty. I think with some investigation an argument could be made against the Port for claiming they had the right to take the artifacts. Sounds like theft to me.

    Seems like the best way may be to negotiate a deal with Muckleshoot. Skirt the governmet mess completely. Those people know that those artifacts are not theirs.
    The other good way to call out intsitutions on their underhanded actions is to TELL EVERYONRE, make as big and loud of a stink as possible. No one likes bad press.

  • miws March 2, 2014 (7:57 am)

    (btw, is The Battle of Seattle the same thing as the Puget Sound Indian War?)


    RG, that sounds about right. I did a quick search at History Link, and came up with too many results than I have time to research right now, so you might wnat to check that out. I may try to get back there later if I have time.


    Great letter to the Port, as are all of the others that folks have shared.



  • Linda Blackinton March 3, 2014 (11:12 am)

    Port of Seattle Commissioners:

    I’m stunned that the Port would even consider the Duwamish artifacts their own. They belong to the Duwamish Tribe.

    Muckleshoot Tribes is not a tribe, but a federation/conglomeration of tribes. The reservation is called Muckleshoot. They have reservation rights, but are not in any way part of the Duwamish Tribal heritage.

    As a Samish Indian, I am aware of what the Duwamish Tribe is going through regarding re-recognition. That is a tragedy in itself, because of an error through the BIA. It took 22 yrs for the Samish to regain our recognition through Federal Courts, not through the BIA. The Duwamish are going through the same procedure that we had to go through, after failing for recognition through the BIA.

    Please reconsider your plans to give these artifacts to the Muckleshoot Tribes, and give the artifacts back to the Duwamish Tribe, who right fully should have them. They do have a security place for them, can take good care of them, and it is their heritage.

    To say that they have to go to a “Recognized Tribe” is not in the best interest of the Tribes. I believe the Duwamish have a 501(c)3 catagory that can be used in this case.

    It is best to deal kindly with the Duwamish Tribe, because as I’ve told the Port before, when the Duwamish Tribe obtains their recognition the Port is sitting on their old lands. Just a reminder of where you are.

    Linda Blackinton
    Samish Elder

    cc: Cecile Hansen

  • moji March 3, 2014 (8:56 pm)

    Aho, Linda Blackinton!
    Thank you so much for sharing with us your very inspirational letter. I will now go and write to the Port, myself.

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