Duwamish people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Duwamish territory shown highlighted in green. Orange blocks are current Indian reservations
Total population
About 351 (1854),[1]
unknown but more than 600 (2023)[2]
Regions with significant populations
Southern Lushootseed, English
Indigenous religion, Christianity,[3] including syncretic forms
Related ethnic groups
Other Lushootseed-speaking peoples

The Duwamish (Lushootseed: dxʷdəwʔabš,[4] [dxʷdəwʔɑbʃ], doof-DEHW-absh) are a Lushootseed-speaking Coast Salish people in western Washington, and the Indigenous people of metropolitan Seattle.

The Duwamish lived along the Black and Duwamish River in Washington.[5] The modern Duwamish primarily descend from two separate groups: the dxʷdəwʔabš, or Duwamish, and the x̌ačuʔabš, or Hachuamish, a group of peoples whose traditional territory extends around Lake Washington. Although the primary language used by the Duwamish today is English, the Duwamish historically spoke a subdialect of the southern dialect of Lushootseed, a Coast Salish language spoken throughout much of western Washington.

The Duwamish, represented by Chief Seattle, were among the signatories of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott.[6][7]

Duwamish people today are enrolled in several different tribes.[7] These include the unrecognized tribe called the Duwamish Tribe and the federally recognized tribes:

Name and etymology[edit]

The name Duwamish is an anglicization of the Lushootseed name for the people: dxʷdəwʔabš. The name dxʷdəwʔabš means "people of the inside," referring to the Cedar River, which is known in Lushootseed as the dxʷdəw, or the "inside." The name is composed of the prefix dxʷ-, meaning "toward, to," the suffix =abš, meaning "people," and the root word √dəw, a variant form of dəkʷ, meaning "inside something relatively small"[4] (referring to Elliott Bay with respect to Puget Sound).[citation needed]

Their endonym has also been recorded as dxʷduʔabš, but this spelling is rare and not used in any official context.[4]

The name of other main group that the modern Duwamish descend from, the Hachuamish, is also an anglicization of a Lushootseed name. In Lushootseed, they are called the x̌acuʔabš, from the root √x̌acuʔ, meaning "lake", and the suffix =abš. Thus, their name means "people of the lake" or "lake people."



Western Washington has been permanently inhabited since at least 12,000 years ago, to the Pleistocene epoch and the end of the Last Glacial Maximum. Although it is possible that humans lived in the region before that time, the landscape was highly volcanic and unstable, leading to vast alteration of the coastline and rivers over time.[8] Archaeological sites at the former village at West Point (paq̓ac̓aɬčuʔ)[9] date back at least 4,200 years.[10] Villages at the mouth of the Duwamish River such as həʔapus and t̕uʔəlalʔtxʷ had been continuously inhabited since the 6th century CE.[11]

The Duwamish had 17 villages with 93 at least buildings, including longhouses, in and near present-day Seattle and Elliott Bay.[6] The people living around Elliott Bay, the Duwamish, Black and Cedar Rivers were collectively known as the dxʷdəwʔabš. There were four prominent villages on Elliott Bay and the lower Duwamish River.[11] Before modern civil engineering, the area at the mouth of Elliot Bay had extensive tidelands, abundantly rich in marine life, a plentiful source of food for the Duwamish.[12]

The people living around Lake Washington were collectively known as the x̌ačuʔabš. Another group strongly associated and intermarried with the x̌ačuʔabš were the x̌aʔx̌ačuʔabš ("People of the Small Lake / People of the Little Lake") living around Lake Union.[13] At the time of initial major European contact, these people considered themselves wholly distinct from the Duwamish. However, after the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in the 1910s, the Black River joined the Cedar and White (now Green) rivers to become the Duwamish River and empty into southeast Elliott Bay.[14][15][better source needed] With ever-increasing European contact, the Hachuamish and the Duwamish became unified under the Duwamish, and all modern-day Duwamish consider themselves descended from both major groups.[citation needed]

Late precontact life was not idyllic. Northern Coast Salish and Wakashan from harder climates to the north were wont to raid. Food resources varied, and resources were not always sufficient to last through to spring. There is evidence that an extensive trade and potlatch network evolved to help distribute resources to areas in need that varied year to year, and was potent and effective until European diseases arriving in the 1770s[16][better source needed] and ravaged the region for more than a century.[17]

Early contact: 1850s[edit]

From the early 19th century, the maritime fur trade in the Puget SoundStrait of Georgia accelerated the pace of social and organizational change.[18] Duwamish contacts with whites was sporadic until the 1850s.[5] White settlements at sbuh-KWAH-buks (Alki) and what is now Pioneer Square in Downtown Seattle were established in 1851 and 1852.

American ethnologist George Gibbs conducted a survey of American Indians in the Puget Sound region in the 1850s. In 1854, he recorded 162 Duwamish people living at Lake Fork and along the Duwamish River and 189 Duwamish and relatives on Lake Washington and along the Green and White rivers,[1] for an estimated total of 351

European-Americans settled the region at ever-increasing rates. After just five years, lands were occupied. The Treaty of Point Elliott was signed in 1855. There is question about its legitimacy, from the lack of understanding of the two sides about each other to the motivations of the U.S. government and its agents.[4][19] Whites recognized leaders more or less at their own choosing, bypassing what they saw as the maddening fluidity of tribal leadership. The potlatch was widely banned, and the longhouse soon suppressed.[20][21][22]

1855 Treaty of Point Elliott[edit]

The Duwamish attended and took part in the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliot on January 22, 1855, at bək̓ʷəɬtiwʔ (Point Elliott, now Mukilteo, Washington). The treaty was drawn up hastily and negotiations were conducted only in Chinook Jargon, a trade language which was not spoken by many attending and later deemed not even suitable for diplomatic processes. This poor diplomacy created several misunderstandings and disputes between the parties that persist into the modern day. The treaty was signed by then-territorial governor Isaac Stevens and representatives from the Duwamish (led by Chief Seattle) and 14 other treaty tribes. It would not be ratified until 1859, four years after the negotiations. During that time, the unsigned treaty was used as justification for many encroachments on Duwamish territory.[23][better source needed][19]

Due to the American government's policy of consolidating many smaller peoples into large treaty tribes and Stevens' personal political motivations, Stevens appointed prominent leaders as chiefs in order to facilitate the prominent leader Seattle was first to sign the treaty after Stevens.[24] Seattle signed the treaty under for the Duwamish, Suquamish, and twenty-one other tribes designated as "allied tribes" under the Duwamish, creating the notion that Seattle was the paramount chief of a large confederation of tribes.[7] Other Duwamish signatories to the treaty were Ts'huahntl, Nowachais, and Hasehdooan.[23][24][19]

The Duwamish signed away the title to more than 54,000 acres, which today includes the cities of Seattle, Renton, Tukwila, Bellevue, and Mercer Island. Among other things, the treaty guaranteed both hunting and fishing rights, and reservations for all signatory tribes.[citation needed] The treaty established the Port Madison, Tulalip, Swinomish, and Lummi reservations as temporary reservations for all the signatory tribes, including the Duwamish, promising that other reservations would soon be expanded and new reservations established for other tribes.[7][25] The Port Madison reservation was established for use primarily by the Duwamish,[5] Suquamish, and allied tribes. While many Duwamish later moved to the Port Madison reservation, including Seattle, many did not, and either never left or returned to their homelands along the Duwamish watershed to await a reservation of their own.[6]

Puget Sound War (1855–56)[edit]

Later that year, due to dissatisfaction with the established reservations, lack of followthrough on promises, abuse of power, and murder of Indigenous people at the hands of settlers, the Puget Sound War began, instigated by the American government. The Stkelmish (one of the Hachuamish groups) village of saʔcaqaɬ, south of modern-day Bellevue, was used as a staging ground by the in the 1856 Battle of Seattle. The Duwamish took part in the battle on both sides, with many of the Hachuamish fighting against the Americans, and Chief Seattle aiding the settlers in the siege.[citation needed]

One year later, the Fox Island Council was held to address the grievances held by people after the treaty. There, Isaac Stevens agreed to establish a reservation, the Muckleshoot reservation, for the Duwamish and other tribes living along the Duwamish watershed, including the White and Green rivers, in hopes that the remaining Duwamish would move to the reservation.[26] The reservation was understood by the Indigenous people at the meeting to consist of a wedge of land between the White and Green rivers, however the official documents only include the area of today's reservation.

Seattle waterfront with moored Indian canoes, c. 1892

Reservation era (late 19th century)[edit]

In the years following, most of the remaining Duwamish moved from their historical homelands along Lake Washington and along the Duwamish and Cedar Rivers to the Suquamish Reservation, with others moving to the Muckleshoot and Tulalip reservations, although some still stayed behind, refusing to move. Some of those who remained assimilated into white society.[27][better source needed][28] This period led to the modern split between the Duwamish descendants, the Muckleshoot, Suquamish, and epynomous Duwamish tribes. The Duwamish were briefly expelled from the territory of Seattle following the passage of Ordinance No. 5.[29]

Efforts were made to increase the size of the Muckleshoot reservation or create another reservation for the Duwamish to accommodate the influx of people.[30] Proposals were made by the US Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1866 to create another reservation specifically for the Duwamish near what is now Renton and Tukwila, but American settlers wrote to Arthur Denny, the territorial delegate to congress, complaining about the proposal. Denny himself signed the complaint petition, as well as David Denny, Henry Yesler, David "Doc" Maynard, and virtually all of Seattle's establishment, saying that "such a reservation would do a great injustice" and be "of little value to the Indians." The petition was forwarded to the BIA and subsequently, the proposal was blocked later that year.[31][better source needed] To this day, the Duwamish Tribe claims that the promise of a uniquely Duwamish reservation in their central homeland has not yet been fulfilled.[citation needed]

In 1868 President Andrew Johnson was recommended to sign an executive order to designate all land between the Green and White rivers as part of the Muckleshoot reservation. However, the order was either misplaced or set aside, and no action was taken.[32]

20th century[edit]

At the turn of the 20th century, some Duwamish converted to the Indian Shaker Church,[3] a regional Indigenous religion originating with the Squaxin.

By 1910, visible Duwamish presence in the City of Seattle had disappeared, effected primarily by city law and in part by repeated burning of Duwamish settlements.[18]

In 1962, the Duwamish were awarded $62,000 for their land claims.[3]

The 1974 Boldt Decision, United States v. Washington, ruled that American Indian tribes in the state of Washington have rights to 50% of the fishing harvest guaranteed by treaty.[3] The ruling was appealed and upheld in 1979. Duwamish descendants enrolled in federally recognized tribes had fishing rights; however, the Duwamish Tribe, being unrecognized, were not included in the Boldt Decision or rights outlined in the Treaty of Point Elliott.[3]

In 1977, the Duwamish filed a petition, together with the Snohomish and Steilacoom (Chillacum), for federal recognition.[33]

In recent decades notable elders are recovering and younger members are further developing that heritage. Members of the Duwamish continue to be involved in Seattle's Urban Indian culture, as represented in such institutions as United Indians of All Tribes and the Seattle Indian Health Board.[citation needed]

While there had been few visible signs of traditional Native culture in Seattle since the early 20th century, in March 1970 local Indians burst back into visibility in the most unmistakable way. Bob Satiacum (Puyallup), United Indians founder Bernie Whitebear (Colville Confederated Tribes) and other Native Americans invaded and occupied then-active Fort Lawton, which was originally Indian land, by scaling fences and by scaling the bluffs from the beach. The base had been declared surplus by the Department of Defense. Under the Treaty of Point Elliott, the United Indians of All Tribes presented a claim to all lands that might be declared surplus. After worldwide interest, long negotiations, and congressional intervention, an eventual result was the construction and a 99-year renewable lease with the City of Seattle for a 17-acre (69,000 m2) site adjacent to the new Discovery Park after the decommissioning of most of the base. The result was Daybreak Star Cultural Center (1977), an urban base for Native Americans in the Seattle area.[34]

Cecile Hansen (Suquamish/Duwamish), great-great-grandniece of Chief Sealth, has served as the elected chair of the Duwamish Tribe since 1975. She is also an enrolled member of the Suquamish Indian Tribe of the Port Madison Reservation,[6] as well as a founder and the current president of Duwamish Tribal Services. The tribe incorporated Duwamish Tribal Services as 501(3)(c) nonprofit in 1979.[35]

James Rasmussen of the Duwamish Tribe has led efforts to restore the environmental health of the Duwamish River since the 1980s,[36] working with citizen groups and other tribe members. Accomplishments include gaining federal Superfund Site status for the last 5 miles (8.0 km) of the river from Turning Basin and Herring House Park to the mouth. The lower Duwamish was the site of the former concentration of Duwamish villages before substantial European contact. The most contaminated spots are being dredged and capped, largely around 2007, overseen by the Port of Seattle and the United States Environmental Protection Agency—and observed. Complications ensue from the difficulties in tracing those responsible. Riparian cleanup and habitat restoration continues with citizen groups together with the port.

The Duwamish Tribe constructed the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center on purchased land across the way from Terminal 107 Park,[37] site of a venerable former village called həʔapus[38] and part of the history of Downtown and lower Duwamish River. The new cultural center is built along Marginal Way.[38]

The Duwamish Hill Preserve in Tukwila, Washington, is a space of cultural significance, serving as a historical vantage point for seeing people entering or leaving the area. Additionally, it is the space where the Epic of the Winds is based.[39]

The Renton History Museum in Renton, Washington, has a small exhibit on the archaeological and cultural history of the Duwamish tribe.[40]

As of late 2022, Indigenous businesses have begun to open in Seattle, including ʔálʔal Cafe, which contexualizes local ingredients and shares traditional dishes.[41]

Culture and society[edit]

The village[edit]

Inside the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center

Like many other Coast Salish societies, traditional Duwamish society was dominated by the village. It was the basis of societal organization for the Puget Sound peoples and, in the precontact period, the village was the highest form of social organization. Each village had one or more cedar plank longhouses housing one or more extended families. Longhouses were often divided into sections by dividers made of cattail or cedar, with each family having their own section of the house with a fire pit in the center of the section.[42] A single longhouse could support as few as tens of people, to as many as hundreds of people.[20][43]

The Duwamish, a primarily riverine people, built most of their villages along the dxʷdəw, today the Duwamish, Black, and Cedar Rivers. The Hachuamish, on the other hand, were primarily lake-oriented peoples and their villages were mostly located along Lake Washington and Lake Union.

Although the village was the highest form of social cohesion, it was not centralized. There were no formal organs of government or authority which ruled over a village. On the other hand, authority was entrusted to high-status individuals when called for, such as leading a war party, constructing a house, or gathering berries. The highest-status male of the highest-status family in a village was generally seen as the leader of the village for most purposes, and this position fluctuated often.[20]

Longhouse architecture continues to be used to this day in cultural settings. An example is the north face of the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.[citation needed] More recently, the design of the main hall of the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center closely echoes a traditional longhouse.[citation needed]

Social organization[edit]

For most of history, the Duwamish were not a unified tribe. Instead, villages were completely autonomous, linked by shared language, culture, location, and family.[44] While some villages held higher status and had a certain influence over others, there was no official authority of one village over another.

Duwamish man and woman, Old Tom and Madeline, Portage Bay, Seattle, c. 1904. "Old Tom" is likely Chesiahud

Duwamish villages, due to their geographical and familial closeness, were historically tightly allied within their drainage. Duwamish villages also were closely allied with their neighbors, such as the Hachuamish, the Sammamish, the Snoqualmie, the Stkamish, the Puyallup, the Hommamish, Suquamish, and many more. As marrying distant peoples to get unique access to far-away resources was ideal, some Duwamish intermarried and allied with peoples as far away as the Stillaguamish.[45] Good marriages gave prestige and could result in the gain of material wealth.

Intermarriage between villages created a large trade network stretching across much of the Pacific Northwest, extending up into what is now British Columbia and over the Cascade Range.[20] The Puget Sound was the primary waterway connecting the Lushootseed-speaking peoples with the rest of the world, allowing swift water travel across great distances.[22][21]

Duwamish society was divided into an upper class, lower class, and slave class. Each of these classes were largely hereditary, although social movement did happen.[20] Nobility was based on impeccable genealogy, intertribal kinship, wise use of resources, and possession of esoteric knowledge about the workings of spirits and the spirit world, making an effective marriage of class, secular, religious, and economic power. There were physical distinctions for high-status individuals: mothers carefully shaped the heads of their young babies, binding them with cradle boards just long enough to produce a steep sloping forehead.[18]

Seasonal patterns[edit]

The Duwamish had winter villages and summer camps where they fished primarily salmon, harvested shellfish, and gathering plants.[5] There were numerous villages in what would become the Seattle metropolitan area as well as the nearby Snoqualmie River valley.[11] Common to Coast Salish, villages were diffuse: people dispersed in the spring, congregated for the salmon in the summer, and wintered in village longhouses.

In spring, salmonberry shoots and bracken fern fiddleheads were foraged, while hunters searched for deer or elk grazing on the skunk cabbage or the anthropogenic grasslands. Camas from nearby prairies would be gathered or traded. The grasslands encouraged berries, fern roots, bulbs and other useful plants. Garry oaks, whose thick bark helps them survive fires, are typically associated with prairies, and their presence at Seward Park and Martha Washington Parks suggests that anthropogenic grasslands extended between them. They may have been planted for their edible acorns.

In summer and fall, thimbleberries, salal, raspberries, salmonberries, trailing blackberries, serviceberries, strawberries, huckleberries, and others were foraged. The berries were eaten fresh, or dried and formed into cakes to preserve them for winter. Mixed with dried fish and oil in recipes, pemmican made hearty late winter fare or compact, hardy provision for travel. Women and children would gather important wetland plants such as cattails for mats and wapato ("Indian potatoes") for food. Crayfish and freshwater mussels were available in the lake.

Shellfish and tidal resources were available year-round, limited only by red tide or similar infrequent closures. From midsummer through November, life revolved around the iconic salmon (Lushootseed: sʔuladxʷ)[4] and realization of its inspiring power and wealth, both corporeal and spiritual. Salmon returned to virtually every stream with enough flow; among these streams was sqa’ts1d ("blocked mouth"), now called Genesee Creek, which formerly drained the Rainier Valley. The name of the creek suggests that a fishing weir in place blocked the mouth of the stream during part of the spawning season. Such weirs were made from the willows that occur abundantly along the lake shore. Fish were dried on racks to preserve them for the winter months.

During the long wet winter and early spring, the diet of dried fish and berries was supplemented by hunting ducks, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, otter, and bear. Winters were for construction and repair, for the arts, socializing, and ceremonies, and for stories in a rich oral tradition.[14]

21st-century Duwamish[edit]

Today, Duwamish people and descendants are primarily enrolled in the federally recognized tribes, the Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Reservation, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Suquamish Indian Tribe of the Port Madison Reservation, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and Tulalip Tribes of Washington, and the unrecognized tribe, the Duwamish Tribe.[7][6] They are all located in western Washington.

Duwamish Tribe[edit]

Cecile Hansen, 2011

In 1925, the Duwamish Tribe, also known as the Duwamish Tribal Organization, drafted a constitution, wrote bylaws, and implemented structure for the organization.[3] To this day, they are not recognized as a tribe by the U.S. federal government[2] or the state of Washington.

The Duwamish were party to land claims against the federal government in the 1930s and 1950s.[3]

In 1983, the Duwamish Tribe established the Duwamish Tribal Services, a 501(c) nonprofit organization which provides social services to the organization's members.[citation needed]

Recognition of the Duwamish Tribe requires proving they have "continually maintained an organized tribal structure since their ancestors signed treaties with the United States in the 1850s." U.S. District Judge George Boldt (1903–1984) found in 1979 that the Tribe had not existed continuously as an organized tribe (within the meaning of federal law) from 1855 to the present, and was therefore ineligible for treaty fishing rights. A gap in the record from 1915 to 1925 prompted Boldt's decision.[46][better source needed]

According to Russel Barsh, attorney for the Samish in that Tribe's effort to gain recognition, which succeeded in 1996, "the Samish proved in a hearing that Judge Boldt's decision against these tribes was based on incomplete and erroneous evidence." This would argue for allowing an appeal of the decision.[47]

In June 1988, 72 descendants of Washington settlers reversed their ancestors and petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs in support of federal recognition of the Duwamish Tribe. The signers were members of the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington, which maintains Pioneer Hall in Madison Park as a meeting hall and archive of pioneer records.[48]

In the mid-1990s, proposals were made in Congress to extinguish all further efforts by unrecognized tribes to gain recognition. These were defeated. Success or continued failure tends to drift with the national mood and leanings of Congress. Effectively, recognition turns upon the mood of Congress with respect to honoring treaties with Native Americans. Occasionally tribes succeed, such as with the Boldt Decision in 1974.

Chief Seattle, 1864

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 Seattle Pacific University anthropologist, helped assemble the additional data.[23] 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.[49] However, the ruling was voided in 2002 by the Bush administration, citing procedural errors.[50]

In March 2013 Federal Judge John C. Coughenour granted summary judgement in Hansen et al v. Salazar ordering the Department of Interior to reconsider or explain the denial of the Tribe's petition.[51] In July 2015 the BIA responded with a conclusion that the Duwamish do not meet the criteria for federal recognition.[52] In May 2022, the Duwamish sued Department of Interior attempting to gain federal recognition.[53]

In 2022, the Duwamish Tribe sued for federal recognition in Duwamish Tribe v. Haaland, which is still being heard in Washington Western District Court.[54] Representatives of the Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Tulalip and Puyallup tribes have voiced their opposition to federal recognition for the Duwamish Tribe, pointing out that many Duwamish people are enrolled in their tribes.[6]

In 1991, the Duwamish Tribe had about 400 members,[3] and in 2019, they had about 600 members.[2]

Notable members[edit]

Chesiahud and others in a canoe on Lake Union, Seattle[55]
  • Princess Angeline (c. 1820–1896), Chief Seattle's daughter, basket maker, remained in Seattle despite forced removal efforts
  • Chesiahud, chief and nature guide,remained in Seattle despite forced removal efforts
  • Hwehlchtid, also "Salmon Bay Charlie," remained in Shilshole Bay
  • Chief Seattle, also Si'ahl, Sealth (Suquamish/Duwamish, c. 1784–1866), military leader, diplomat


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  2. ^ a b c Grygiel, Chris (July 14, 2009). "Duwamish tribe tries for federal recognition -- again". Seattle PI. Hearst. Retrieved December 27, 2023.
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    (3) Brown ([1970], 2001). The Samish Tribe regained Federal Recognition on April 26, 1996, due to the efforts of Russel Barsh after over two decades of legal action to overturn a clerical error that affected all the unrecognized tribes. See the Samish Tribe website for further details.
  48. ^ Wilma (January 24, 2001), Essay 2956
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