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Grant federal recognition to the Duwamish Tribe

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Signatories to the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855 included Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens and representatives from the Duwamish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Lummi, Skagit, Swinomish, and other tribes. The Duwamish signatories to the treaty were Chief Seattle, Ts'huahntl, Now-a-chais, and Ha-seh-doo-an. Other prominent Native American signers included Snoqualmie and Snohomish chief Patkanim, identified on the treaty as Pat-ka-nam; Skagit chief Goliah; and Lummi chief Chow-its-hoot. The treaty guaranteed both fishing rights and reservations. The United States government has never fulfilled its commitments to Chief Seattle’s people – the Duwamish.

In return for reservations and other benefits promised in the treaty by the United States government, the Duwamish Tribe exchanged over 54,000 acres of their homeland. Today those 54,000 acres include the cities of Seattle, Renton, Tukwila, Bellevue, and Mercer Island, and much of King County.

The Duwamish Tribe adopted a constitution, bylaws, and further structure in 1925, but as of 2013 they are still not recognized as a tribe by the United States federal government. Individually, the Duwamish people continue to be recognized by the BIA as legal Native Americans, but not corporately as a tribe.
Tribal membership criteria vary by tribe. For the Duwamish, in accordance with Salish tradition, enrollment is by the applicant providing a documented genealogy. Consequently, not all Duwamish today are members of the Duwamish Tribe. The Duwamish Tribe recorded about 400 enrolled members in 1991 and about 500 in 2004. The tribe is of moderate size with respect to moderately-sized federally-recognized Washington tribes. Why are our people still not acknowledged?

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) denied recognition in 1996. The tribe then assembled additional evidence for its active existence through the decade in question. Evidence was assembled from Catholic church records, news reports, oral histories, and further tracing of bloodlines. Ken Tollefsen, a retired Pacific University anthropologist, helped assemble the additional data. This new evidence prompted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reverse its 1996 decision, and the tribe briefly won federal recognition in January 2001, in the waning days of the Clinton administration. However, the ruling was voided in 2002 by the Bush administration, citing procedural errors on the part of Michael Anderson.

Michael Anderson served eight years in the Clinton Administration at the Department of the Interior as Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs and as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. He is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He now has a law firm in Washington, D.C., Anderson Indian Law.

“There are clearly new opportunities here for the tribe to become recognized,” said Anderson. “It would be defensible legally and, I think, morally, for the Department of Interior to accept my final 2001 conclusion to recognize Duwamish as a tribe.” Anderson helped make the case that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should deal with the Duwamish as a tribe, not as individuals. “When the chief made ceremonial presentations, the chief was representing the nation, not acting in an individual capacity,” Anderson explained in his 2009 testimony.

Since 2003, Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott has introduced a bill every two years to restore recognition to the Duwamish which has never made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Seattle federal district court Judge John Coughenour ruled March 22, 2013 that the Bush Administration’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior wrongly denied the Duwamish Tribe of Seattle’s petition for federal recognition in 2001, which was, signed as the Clinton administration departed, and denied the day the Bush administration came in. The judge ordered the Dept. of Interior to either consider the tribe's petition using 1994 guidelines, or explain why it declines to do so.
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