Last year, when I returned to the USA from overseas, I bought an urban condominium apartment in West Seattle. I chose the neighborhood for its ethnic diversity, its convenience, and its excellent access to swimming pools. (Yes, I am unusually passionate about swimming pools, but that is a different subject, for a different blog!)
I moved into my condo in February 2009, unaware that one month earlier the Duwamish Tribe had opened a new Longhouse about one mile to the east. The Duwamish are the tribe of Chief Seattle (Si’ahl), and the First People of the region that later became metro Seattle. The Longhouse opening was a celebration of historic proportions, marking the first longhouse built since the previous structures were destroyed 100+ years ago in a wave of arson fires.
I visited the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center a few days ago, at the suggestion of a friend who reads this blog. The Longhouse is a beautiful living testament to the strength and survival of Seattle’s First People. Many locals also feel that the Longhouse contributes to reconciliation, because the descendants of prominent white pioneers helped to raise funds for its construction. These events are indeed signs of hope! So will I now rest easier, knowing that a step has been taken towards restoration?
Well . . . No. I am not resting easier. I have learned that the Duwamish Tribe remains landless, except for the tiny lot on which the Longhouse sits. Chief Seattle signed the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty with the US government, exchanging over 50,000 acres of Duwamish homeland for a reservation and other benefits. However, the promised reservation of land was never granted. In fact, the US government does not even recognize the existence of the Duwamish Tribe, leaving them ineligible for native rights and benefits, and hidden from the public eye. No doubt this is a controversial history, and there are complex legal issues involved in federal recognition. But, at a human level, how do we justify the history of broken treaties? How can one group of people deny the existence of another?
I hope to learn more about Duwamish history, from Duwamish people. Yet this journey can only proceed one day at a time. So, after lingering a few hours in the Longhouse, I got back in my car, drove a mile west to a condominium in a different cultural world, and began to write.
I am a learner, sharing my own experiences. For accurate information on the Duwamish Longhouse and the Tribe’s struggle for federal recognition, I suggest their official site at: http://www.duwamishtribe.org
Photo by Joe Mabel.