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Duwamish Tribe Vows to Keep Fighting for Recognition

Duwamish tribal members say they'll keep fighting after the federal government denied their longstanding petition to be recognized as a tribe.

“We need to fight. We’re not giving up,” said Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish. “We’ve been here before the settlers came. We signed a treaty in honor. And they’re not honoring our chief, that they named this city after. This is wrong. This is terribly wrong.”

Hansen’s a descendant of Chief Seattle. And she’s led this fight for federal status since 1977.

The denial came last week. Federal documents explain that’s based on several criteria. A key one is proof of the tribe’s ongoing identity and community since 1855. The feds say the evidence is insufficient. The Duwamish strongly disagree.

Gripping a native talking stick, Hansen addressed a small crowd at the Duwamish longhouse in West Seattle on Wednesday. She’s a petite grandmother, but her words often carry a bite.

“This is disgusting,” Hansen said.

After a few days to take in this latest blow, her emotions seem to bounce between anger, disbelief, optimism and sadness.

Hansen says the Duwamish are exploring ways to push their case in Congress or in the court system.

Recognition can be a game changer, making tribes eligible for federal grants toward housing, health care and education.

About 600 people are enrolled as Duwamish. Many others have joined different tribes or have passed away in the intervening years.

Several nearby tribes, including the Muckleshoot, have opposed the Duwamish petition.

But a few members of other recognized tribes came out to support the Duwamish on Wednesday.

They offered up a musical rally cry that brought many to tears.

Florence Fiddler is a member of the Ojibwe Tribe and lives in West Seattle. She says the Duwamish do a lot to help families and children in the area.

“So it isn’t just a Duwamish issue, it’s an everybody issue,” Fiddler said. “The better the Duwamish tribe does, the better everybody here will do.”

Year started with KUOW: 2006