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Duwamish Fight For Federal Status Inches Forward

Liz Jones

Seattle’s native people, the Duwamish, will learn today about their next step in a decades-old legal battle.  The tribe has petitioned the US government for federal recognition, which would make the Duwamish eligible for certain benefits like health care, fishing rights and the chance to run a casino.

The petition, which has been in limbo since 1977, was briefly approved in 2001 and then denied days later as the White House changed hands from President Bill Clinton to President George W. Bush.

In March, US District Judge John Coughenour ordered the Department of the Interior to reconsider its denial, indicating federal officials had handled the Duwamish case differently than similar ones. Tuesday is the deadline for the feds to respond.

Bart Freedman, attorney for the Duwamish, said the federal officials have told him they plan to file a notice of appeal, but that’s not necessarily bad news.

“In part, that’s a place holder,” Freedman said. “The Department of Justice indicated they’re still deciding whether or not to pursue appeal or let the case be remanded back for a new decision.”

Freedman said he’s optimistic the case will be sent back to the Department of the Interior for a new review. To gain recognition the Duwamish must prove several pieces of their history, including that they’ve maintained a distinct and cohesive community.

Freedman’s also hopeful the Duwamish will be allowed to submit new evidence of that continuity since the case file was last updated in 1989.

Year started with KUOW: 2006