VIDEO: Duwamish Tribe asks for equal share in West Seattle Bridge art project, as council committee tables it again

(Image from December 2023 council-committee agenda, incorporating Google Maps photo)

Not including the Duwamish Tribe in a highly visible Native-art project barely a mile from their Longhouse would be a “systemic erasure,” the City Council’s Transportation Committee was told by tribal officials this morning.

The committee, chaired by District 1 Councilmember Rob Saka, was scheduled to be briefed and to possibly vote on the project at today’s meeting, three months after the previous membership of the committee tabled it at the request of Saka’s predecessor Lisa Herbold. At the start of the meeting, Saka announced that it would not be voted on today; then after the previous two (unrelated) agenda items ran long, he announced the art-project briefing would be tabled entirely, “possibly” to an unspecified later date.

Though this project has been in the planning stages for almost two years, it was not mentioned publicly until the agenda emerged for a committee meeting last December. The project is proposed to involve the Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes, sharing an estimated 15 West Seattle Bridge columns and $133,000 from the West Seattle Bridge repair/mitigation project. The Duwamish say the art project was never even mentioned to them (and the slide deck prepared for the meeting bears that out). At the committee briefing in December, SDOT countered by saying the Duwamish Tribe was involved with a different art project – but it turned out to involve the sidewalk close to the Longhouse, and, according to the tribe, was in the works long before this came to light.

(WSB photo, Council Chambers today)

At the start of the meeting, the public-comment period included more than half a dozen people telling the committee that the Duwamish Tribe should be included in the bridge-columns project. Here’s our video of the entire public-comment period (including several speakers talking about other agenda items); the first speaker, reading a statement from Duwamish Tribe chair Cecile Hansen, was Longhouse director Kristina Pearson:

Several of the Duwamish representatives who spoke said they’re being excluded because their tribe is not federally recognized, a status they’ve been fighting for years to regain. And to add insult to injury, said one speaker, the project excluding the Duwamish Tribe is in “an area that is culturally sensitive to” them.

Saka noted from the dais that he will be visiting the Duwamish Longhouse soon for a meeting; before adjourning, both he and the committee’s vice-chair, District 3 Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth, thanked the Duwamish members for coming to City Hall. She said, “You being the original caretakers of this land, when you speak, we need to listen.”

(Side note – we will cover the rest of the meeting, which focused on the Seattle Transportation Plan and a “State of the Bridges” overview, in a separate report.)

24 Replies to "VIDEO: Duwamish Tribe asks for equal share in West Seattle Bridge art project, as council committee tables it again"

  • Nathan H. March 5, 2024 (3:29 pm)

    It probably should be noted that the Duwamish tribe isn’t federally recognized in large part because the other tribes oppose that recognition.  It seems disrespectful for us as colonizers to step in to the middle of a disagreement that’s primarily between the various first peoples.  Maybe we should let them work it out amongst themselves.

    • Mike March 5, 2024 (5:01 pm)

      “Maybe we should let them work it out amongst themselves.”  It is accurate that this is in part because the Muckleshoot and Tulalip lobby against Duwamish recognition.  There’s an enormous amount of money that would be diverted from the United States federal government if the Duwamish got recognition.  Cecile Hansen has been fighting for the Duwamish to be federally recognized for over 40 years now.  They had it, but again it was revoked after heavy lobbying to overturn the decision.  Maybe we should do a DNA test and see who has the closest bloodline ties to Chief Seattle… I have my money on Cecile.  Read the Point Elliot Treaty and note which tribe is listed first.

      • Jethro Marx March 5, 2024 (8:00 pm)

        Yikes. We don’t need to talk to the tribes about the purity of their blood. We already have some pretty harmful policies in place on that front.

      • Suzanne March 5, 2024 (8:01 pm)

        Mike: Very well said. I’ve been working in the trenches of my grassroots org for more than 30 years to protect the Black River Riparian Forest, one of two of the Duwamish Tribe’s most sacred sites. 

        The Muckleshoot Tribe receives Federal funds while the Duwamish struggle to have any fishing or land rights. 

        Recognized Tribes receive hundreds of millions in Federal funds while unrecognized tribes are starved, with the Recognized tribal leaders actively participating in the bullying tactics to preserve their share of the Federal pie. 

        $900 million in 2021 — 

        It didn’t have to be this way.  The us-vs-them dynamics are baked into the Recognized vs unrecognized tribes that the Federal government established originally. It continues to this day. 

        This is a good synopsis of the history of the Duwamish Tribe and their efforts to restore their Federal recognition status —

        • Pookie March 6, 2024 (2:18 pm)

          As they build more and more housing complexes along 132nd. Seems your efforts are not being recognized. 

    • Derek March 5, 2024 (5:11 pm)

      And it’s stupid for the other tribes to do deny Duwamish their recognition. Especially in Seattle.

    • Jay March 5, 2024 (5:53 pm)

      No. We can’t use our continued policy of ethnic cleansing as a weapon to be welded by one tribe against another.

  • Adam March 5, 2024 (5:03 pm)

    We’re not colonizers, Nathan, unless some of us defy biology and have seriously pushed the bounds of longevity. I was born in this state long after the land had been stolen. Not to mention this isn’t about a disagreement between tribes, this is about art on columns and those who govern the bridge and the property it’s on. I myself have wondered why the Duwamish isn’t federally recognized and why other tribes oppose it, but regardless of all that, let’s not mix that in with this here.

    • Pauline March 6, 2024 (12:17 am)

      Still thinking like a colonizer lol 

      • Adam March 6, 2024 (9:40 am)

        How am I a colonizer? I was born here? I made an argument for my position. You merely reacted emotionally to the fact you disagree with me, but didn’t offer an argument. So what’s the solution? I go back to Europe due to that being my dominant heritage? So then when I get back, do I demand all the Indians in England to head home? Any blacks in Germany that I need to point in the right direction? Are we just going to put everyone back “where they belong”? Your idea is fraught with issues, at the very least. Because it seems to me that your definition of “colonizer” is broader than it’s intended to be. 

        • evanpetersnottheactor March 6, 2024 (2:59 pm)

          The colonizer mindset is “I was born after this happened, so it is not my fault this continues to happen, nor is it my responsibility to make it better.”

          Also Adam, only colonizers and white supremacists refer to an entire diaspora as “blacks.”

        • Lauren March 6, 2024 (8:08 pm)

          Adam: Colonizer has indeed gotten a different connotation over the past 10ish years. In this context, it basically means that you (and I) descended from people who took this land forcefully. We descended from people who benefited from theft and genocide. You and I did not do anything “wrong.” But the fact is, we still benefit from our ancestors’ actions today. This doesn’t make you (or I) a bad person. It’s just the position we were born into, and we can use that position to help others who weren’t so lucky.there’s a lot of data/research around this if you’re interested in learning more. 

      • Latchkey March 7, 2024 (8:37 am)

        Most every group of people on the planet existing today is the result of someone in their past taking the land of another, but somehow the American condition is special. I don’t disagree with giving Indian tribes their due, but this mentality that this is not our land is ridiculous.

  • Kersti Muul March 5, 2024 (7:48 pm)


  • Don Brubeck March 5, 2024 (9:03 pm)

    This public art project is an insult and affront to the Duwamish Tribe, whose Longhouse and Cultural Center is just a mile south of the site of the proposed artwork. The Muckleshoots have money and political influence, but the Duwamish deserve respect and support from the City of Seattle. City Council should table this until after the City gives active support for restoration of federal recognition of the Duwamish Tribe, and includes the Duwamish Tribe in any public artwork at this location.

  • Jay March 6, 2024 (12:35 am)

    Chief Seattle was Chief of the Duwamish tribe and Ken Workman,
    a member  of the Duwamish tribe, is the
    great-great-great-great Great Grandson of Chief Seattle. I went on a
    hike with him and heard him and other members of the Duwamish Tribe
    speak. I believe that the Duwamish erasure by the city and federal government is ethnic
    cleansing. Seattle history is Duwamish history and we live on Duwamish

  • awareness art March 6, 2024 (1:15 am)

    a pillar of each of the four public bridges spanning the Duwamish Waterway  should be offered to the Duwamish tribe.  Let me guess. No casino money to contribute to the projects budget = no offer to participate?  Suspicious 

  • WS Resident March 6, 2024 (7:12 am)

    How about no art project and we save some $$?

    • Arbor Heights Resident March 8, 2024 (11:43 pm)

      Great idea, we can spend that $ on repeatedly removing graffiti from the columns instead! That would be soooo much better. 

  • Jenben March 6, 2024 (7:54 am)

    Hey WSB respectfully it’s not a fight about art it’s about representation
    So headline could be: fight over Representation. The existing headline implies something more pesky. Words matter obvs

  • Al March 6, 2024 (9:48 am)

    Such an interesting story… The Muckleshoot position is not that the Duwamish are less deserving of recognition, it is that they already have it. The Duwamish people LITERALLY ARE the Muckleshoot people. When it became clear they weren’t going to be able to retain their land through force against the white man, they agreed to move to the reservation and live according to the terms of that treaty (for better or worse, mostly worse).  The treaty was not optional, so all Duwamish people moved. The only exception were those few who had already married into white families. They remained off-res, since they had essentially made a choice to integrate with whites, rather than remain with their people . Now here we are, many years later, and the descendants of those integrators are asking to undo the decision their ancestors made to move to Auburn, and reclaim their ancestral home along the Duwamish. And their cousins in Auburn are basically replying —hey, your family made their choice to leave the tribe when great grandma married that white man instead of moving to the reservation… don’t come back now and pretend that because she did so, the tribe still exists back in Seattle. Then, of course, we modern day Seattleites want to be sympathetic to all native people, so we tend to support both sides, awkwardly. 

    • Jay March 6, 2024 (11:10 am)

      All that paragraph is saying is that the ethnic cleansing of native people and culture from Seattle was successful. Why is it a bad thing to have descendents of the original Seattle residents re-establish the tribe? And it’s interesting that the one drop rule that denied Black people the rights of white people back in the day is now one drop of white blood erases the native identity from a bloodline.

      • Al March 6, 2024 (12:54 pm)

        Nobody is arguing the fairness of colonization, nor the fairness of the treaties and reservation system. However, if we acknowledge the natives should get a better deal and more respect, shouldn’t we direct those things to them where they actually are, by working with their actual leaders? Again, the Muckleshoot aren’t saying native history should be forgotten, they are saying we speak for ourselves —these Seattleites who chose to leave the tribe have no right to come back now, claim our ancestry as their own just because they own houses in the city limits, and negotiate on our behalf as if THEY were the real tribe. 

        • Jay March 7, 2024 (9:47 am)

          The Duwamish were forced to either assimilate as Americans or assimilate as Muckleshoot. Who are you to say that the death of their heritage is just and that they aren’t a real tribe? he Muckleshoot have a financial incentive to collaborate with Seattle’s
          ethnic cleansing, the city gets a city free of inconvenient native
          rights and the Muckleshoot get a bigger piece of the federal funding. The Duwamish have every right to come back from that and reclaim their heritage. Again, that is ethnic cleansing and that’s not hyperbole. The denial of Duwamish heritage is a crime against humanity.

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