SEATTLE (CN) – Though Seattle is named for Duwamish chief Si’alth, the Department of the Interior has denied recognition to the tribe after decades of litigation.
The Department of Interior ruled last week that the Duwamish could not demonstrate a continuous distinct community or that it historically had political influence over its members.
The Interior Department sent a denial letter on July 2 to Cecile Ann Hansen, who has been chairwoman of the tribe since 1975.
It’s a rather bizarre ruling for a tribe that is generally recognized to have lived in the Puget Sound area for more than 8,000 years. The Duwamish lived on the Puget Sound land that is now Seattle and surrounding suburbs.
The Department of Interior in 2001 granted the Duwamish Tribal Organization’s petition for recognition in the last days of the Clinton administration.
President George W. Bush’s officials overturned the ruling.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour vacated the denial of the Duwamish’s recognition and ordered the Department of Interior to review the petition again.
But on July 2 federal officials released a final decision – a denial that could cost tribal members benefits that include subsidized housing, education, health care and the opportunity to open a casino.
The ruling states that the tribe could not demonstrate continual existence, as required by 1978 and 1994 rules.
“The evidence is insufficient to show that it was a continuation of a previous community, or that it evolved as a group from the historical Duwamish tribe. Even though the petitioner’s individual members descend from an Indian tribe that inhabited the southern Puget Sound region at the time of the 1855 treaty, its ancestors (primarily Duwamish women and their non-Indian spouses) soon dispersed throughout western Washington,” according to the ruling.
Hansen said the tribe will “continue to fight on.”
“Under this appeal process, we have again been denied our rightful place in the history of Seattle. Is all complete in the business of the total genocide of the Duwamish People – the people of Chief Sealth for whom our great city is named? Shame on the Bureau of Indian Affairs!” Hansen said in a statement.
Hansen is a descendant of Chief Seattle.
The chief’s name is pronounced, approximately, Si’al (l with a slash through it) in the Duwamish’s Salish language. (The apostrophe denotes a glottal stop, as in uh-oh. The slash-l is a voiceless L: the tongue is placed as though to pronounce L, and the letter is aspirated without voice.)
The Salish language, which is dying out, is rather mysterious, having no certain relationship with any others, though some believe it is related to Kutenai, a linguistic isolate straddling the U.S. Canadian border east northeast of Seattle. At least 23 dialects of Duwamish have been identified.
Chief Seattle – 1786?-1866 – is remembered for a March 11, 1854 speech at a meeting called by territorial Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens, who had demanded that the Duwamish sell their land to Anglos. Si’al made a long speech, whose content is disputed, as it was in his own language. It reportedly spoke of Duwamish traditions and how the land should be treated.
The Salish language family is agglutinative and notoriously difficult – verb-words are multitudinously inflected to form sentence-words. It is known for its consonant clusters – as many as a dozen or more successive consonants without a vowel between them.
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