NOTICE: Suquamish Tribe Opposes Congressional Recognition of Duwamish Tribal Organization


by the Suquamish Tribal Council


Citizens of the Suquamish Tribe, located across Puget Sound from Seattle, have always fished, hunted, and lived in the central Salish Sea, including the lands that now make up the city of Seattle.

More than half of our tribe is made up of Duwamish. Many of them expressed their dissatisfaction with the case presented by a select group of Seattle and King County residents who claim to represent all Duwamish in a recent appeal to Congress for federal recognition of the Duwamish Tribal Organization. (DTO). The claim of these residents minimizes the identity and contribution of the Duwamish people who are full citizens of the Suquamish tribe and other tribes in the area.

We are frustrated that many Seattle residents are joining this call knowing little about the history and circumstances that led to today’s standoff. Those wishing to show respect to the native peoples should start by learning the full history of the tribes in the area.

Here is the story that is important context for this debate:

Chief Seattle lived much of his life at Old Man House, a winter village on the shore of Agate Pass across from Seattle, now known as Suquamish. Seattle’s father, Schweabe, joined Chief Kitsap in leading the construction of Old Man House, which is well known for being the largest traditional cedar longhouse in the Pacific Northwest. This is where Seattle, his family and his tribe lived and held great inter-tribal ceremonies. Today, Chief Seattle is buried in the Suquamish Tribal Cemetery here on the Port Madison Indian Reservation.

In 1855 Chief Seattle signed the Treaty of Point Elliott on behalf of the Suquamish/Duwamish people. The treaty, and subsequent negotiations with federal officials, provided for reservations at Port Madison (Suquamish) and elsewhere in the Puget Sound area. The United States established and later expanded the Port Madison Indian Reservation to accommodate the Suquamish and Duwamish peoples. Many Duwamish families have joined us here on the Port Madison reservation while others have chosen to live on the Tulalip, Muckleshoot or Lummi reservations to join relatives and support the tribal governments on each reservation. This was not unusual – many tribes are confederations made up of several peoples.

Citizens of Suquamish today

Today, the majority of our elected tribal council of seven members are Duwamish. All of our Suquamish citizens, including those who are Duwamish, are fully recognized by the federal government and by our own governance, and enjoy treaty fishing and hunting rights, full constitutional rights to vote and run for office. , and they receive the services that tribal government provides to all of our citizens. We have many respected elders who are of the Duwamish people, including Cecile Hansen, who has held the title of President of the DTO since 1975, while enjoying all the benefits of Suquamish citizenship.

Similar stories unfold on other reservations where the Duwamish are citizens.

Our opposition to the DTO’s current campaign for congressional recognition stems from this history.

We resent that this campaign minimizes and ignores the myriad ways the Suquamish Tribe integrates and recognizes our Duwamish citizens in our social, cultural, economic, political and spiritual pursuits.

This frustration is further heightened by the lack of transparency in the governance of the DTO. When asked, DTO leaders refused to give us any assurance that they would allow our Duwamish citizens to join their tribe if recognized. We are disappointed that DTO claims to be “Seattle’s Host Tribe” and minimizes the legal, cultural, and historical presence that the Suquamish and other area tribes have always had in the lands and waters on both sides of Puget Sound.

Campaign for Congressional Action

To be clear: The Suquamish Tribe took no position when the DTO argued for recognition before the Department of the Interior.

The Home Office process is better equipped to weigh the important legal and historical nuances of such a decision, and we stayed out of the process believing it would be thorough and fair. Indeed, after many years of reviewing the DTO’s application and hearing appeals, the Department of the Interior has denied federal recognition.

Congress, on the other hand, is the wrong place for this federal recognition decision due to the technical nature of DTO recognition, especially when neighboring tribes are in opposition. Federal recognition should not be granted on the basis of emotion, charity or the latest political moves. It must be assessed through analysis by the federal government’s historical and cultural expertise, with judicial review if necessary. The Home Office process concluded that the DTO is not an Indian tribe. The Suquamish Tribe does not support challenging the issue of federal recognition of the DTO through Congress.

We hope those who support the nonprofit goals of the DTO understand that recognition is not necessary for many of the initiatives the organization seeks to accomplish. Additionally, for those eligible for registration, the Duwamish have opportunities for recognition through registration with other tribes in the region.

In addition to the DTO, those wishing to provide meaningful support to Native people might consider supporting the Chief Seattle Club, the American Indian College Fund, the Native American Rights Fund, and our own Suquamish Foundation.

Blind support for congressional recognition of the DTO has serious consequences for the Suquamish and other neighboring tribes who are the original inhabitants of Seattle and the surrounding area. The justice perceived for the few, at the expense of the sovereign tribes of the region, is not justice for all.

Signed, Suquamish Tribal Council

President Leonard Forsman
Vice President Joshua Bagley
Secretary Windy Anderson
Treasurer Denita Holmes
Sammy Mabe
Luther “Jay” Mills Jr.
Wealthy Purser


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📸 Featured Image: Suquamish Tribal Council. Photo courtesy of Council.

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