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Seattle's Duwamish Tribe Denied Federal Status, Benefits

Duwamish tribal chairwoman Cecile Hansen hold her great-grandson, Maximus Pearson in this photo from May 2013.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
Duwamish tribal chairwoman Cecile Hansen holds her great-grandson, Maximus Pearson in this photo from May 2013.

A long journey for Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe appeared to have hit a dead end Thursday. The federal government rejected the tribe’s decades-long fight for official recognition -- and many benefits that come with it. KUOW’s Liz Jones reports.

UPDATE 7/3/15 8:30 a.m.

Speaking outside of the tribe's longhouse Thursday afternoon near the mouth of the Duwamish River, Duwamish Tribe Chairwoman Cecile Hansen expressed her disappointment.

"It's devastating," she said. "Our tribe was the one that welcomed everyone."


The letter is stamped July 2 in heavy black ink. It’s addressed to Ms. Cecile A. Hansen, Chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe. It says the decision is final. Federal recognition is denied.

The tribe of about 600 people began its legal quest for federal status in the late 70s. And it’s been a roller coaster.

Or, in the words of a local tribal attorney, “a legal nightmare.”

Federal recognition brings certain benefits, like reservation land, fishing rights and the possibility to run a casino.

The Duwamish petition was briefly approved in 2001, then denied days later as the White House changed hands from President Bill Clinton to President George W. Bush. It was again reopened for review a few years back, and now, rejection comes again.

The Duwamish are known as Seattle’s hometown tribe. Chief Seattle was their leader. And he greeted white settlers who first landed here.

Cecile Hansen, now a great grandmother, has led this charge for federal recognition nearly half her life. Hansen could not be reached for comment.

Year started with KUOW: 2006