Chudups John and others in a canoe on Lake Union, Seattle

OPINION | ‘Deep Respect’: An Urban Indian Response to an Article Seeding Anti-Native Racism

by Atlas Firtree

Recently a friend forwarded me a Seattle Met article titled “The Politics of Paying Real Rent Duwamish” and a subsequent Reddit thread, along with an eye roll. The author successfully dumbed down the extraordinarily complex issue of federal recognition of Native tribes — to some distortion of reality where appropriative white people intend to open a casino in Seattle city limits to steal money away from other tribes in the region. This is unequivocally anti-Native racism.

The title for this response came from the Reddit thread, where the author says, “I have deep respect for each person, Nation, and group involved in this story” — a statement that is obviously fiction, as their end takeaway is to encourage people not to donate to Real Rent Duwamish or the Duwamish Tribal Services (DTS). The layers of stereotyping and misinformation are due to a lack of research and understanding of Native issues. To say nothing of sending this article to print days before Thanksgiving, a day celebrating the genocide of an entire Native tribal community, and just prior to Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday following Thanksgiving that is the day of the year generating more total donations than any other day. Nothing about this article is respectful.

To be transparent, I am speaking from an Urban Native perspective. I am not from a local tribe. My family has suffered similar colonization issues — as in, I have lost cultural history and identity due to my ancestral band being grouped with a large tribal grouping. Upon exhaustive research, I have chosen to (still) support the Duwamish fight for federal recognition.

Real Rent Duwamish is a nonprofit that was started by the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW) to encourage settlers to pay “rent” to compensate the Duwamish for use of their land, resources, and livelihood; all the money it raises is donated directly to DTS, a separate nonprofit that was already formed to serve the Tribe.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, DTS is held accountable, as any nonprofit is, to use funds only to support the DTS mission, which is “to preserve the economic, political, educational, and cultural survival of the Duwamish Tribe of Indians.” It is not the job of white people to pick apart the value of their work.

I ask that white people stop writing articles like this. Hot takes are a form of white supremacy.

Whether people choose to support the Duwamish is not the point. This is a response to the continual evolvement of anti-Native racism and what I can only describe as bullying and putting down others to make yourself look better, which is permeating our left and radical communities while harming Natives who live in Seattle. 

Before rebutting the fallacies put forth by the article, there are terms I want to define. 

Terms and Definitions

Federal recognition is used for Tribal Nations who have recognized treaties with the U.S. government to self-govern. They are thus entered into a “trust relationship,” where “federal authorities will protect their sovereign status, their lands and tribal property, and their rights as members of domestic dependent nations.” Tribal Nations that are not recognized can form governance in the form of a federal nonprofit but have no rights of negotiation, lack dual-citizenship, and have no rights afforded to recognized tribes, such as hunting and fishing rights. The process to apply for recognition can take at least 2 to 9 years; many petitions have been in process for significantly longer. Since 1980, out of 45 petitions, 28 have been denied. This is a difficult, lengthy, and expensive process.

Reservations are so named because during colonization, treaties reserved land to the tribes. Sometimes, this was a small part of the original land inhabited by the tribe, but when the land was particularly valuable, Natives were moved to a new location, such as during the Trail of Tears. The Duwamish were promised land within their original inhabitation, but then the English decided to relocate them to another reservation because, in short, they valued the Duwamish’s original land too much. 

Treaties are “binding agreements between nations and become part of international law.” The Treaty of Point Elliott, signed in 1855, governs “central and northern Puget Sound and stretched north to the border with British North America (later Canada),” including Seattle (the Duwamish’s original inhabitation). Signing treaties was often a choice between choosing relocation with some rights, and forced relocation or death. The signatories for Native bands were selected by colonizers and did not always govern those who were represented. The Treaty of Point Elliott consolidated “the five lake and upriver bands into a Duwamish Tribe with Seattle as head chief.”

Tribe, also called a tribal nation, conveys the recognition of a tribe as a sovereign entity, a nation that self-governs. Colonization forced a conversion to blood quantums. Cultural and tribal identity groups who historically had conflict were being forced into relation, which caused massive, and often violent, conflicts on reservations. There are numerous bands, tribes, and villages that were included as Duwamish at the signing of the Treaty of Point Elliott. This cultural genocide was and is a specific function of colonization meant to either kill off or assimilate all aboriginals. 

Blood quantum “is a concept created by white settlers that refers to the amount of so-called ‘Indian blood’ that an individual possesses. Blood quantum appears as a fraction and is ‘calculated’ based on an individual’s family tree*. Rooted in eugenics, the concept lacks any scientific basis. … Blood quantum is a stand-in device for lineage imposed by the U.S. federal government to disempower Indigenous people and separate them from their lands, resources, culture, identities, languages, and futures.” *This information is based on registries that white settlers created during colonization. 

Bands are groups of people who cohabitate in the same region. Tribes are several bands who agree politically and govern and negotiate collectively. Colonizers overly glorified Chiefs because of colonial hierarchical thinking. This was explicitly a political strategy to ignore voices, subjugate, and bribe relationships.

Dual citizenship is offered to enrolled members of a tribal nation. They are U.S. citizens and citizens of their tribal nation. Enrolled means your name is on the registry. The registry is used to confirm blood quantum through ancestry. If one’s ancestors resisted colonization and did not register as part of a tribal nation, they are pretty much out of luck and only have singular U.S. citizenship. 

Land Back: As quoted from the LANDBACK website, “Land Back is a movement that has existed for generations with a long legacy of organizing and sacrifice to get Indigenous Lands back into Indigenous hands. It is a decolonization praxis. Decolonization is the action or process of a state withdrawing from a former colony.

Unceded: When we say we are on the unceded land of the Duwamish, we are recognizing the original inhabitants did not cede, give up, surrender, or relinquish the land. Land relinquished via treaty is not truly ceded, because these treaties were forced. Although Chief Seattle signed the treaty, because the U.S. government did not follow through with their part, the treaty is void and the Duwamish cannot qualify as a tribal nation.

Now, Responses to the Article

The author starts by discussing how their community donated to Real Rent Duwamish to relieve guilt from celebrating Thanksgiving. The author professed this being their first article for their new career path as a syndication author — they are literally starting their new career on the backs of Native peoples. This is not judgmental; this context is significant.

Furthermore, the wording throughout suggests that donating to Real Rent Duwamish is wrong because the U.S. government has not granted the Duwamish recognition, thus they should not be recognized, and the fight for recognition is a waste of money. It fails to note that this is a hard-won process governed by colonial thought that takes a long time, requires appeals, and rarely happens. 

Ignorant of how expensive running a nonprofit can be, the article states, “Its most recent publicly shared 990 tax form showed nearly $1.7 million in revenue and almost $4 million in net assets.” 

For 2020, the total revenue was $1,681,219, around $100,000 less than another marginalized-identity-specific cultural center in Seattle, Gay City, whose total revenue was $1,788,586 in 2020. Cecile Hansen, the focus of much of the article and the vice president of DTS, was only paid $14,500 in 2020. Gay City’s executive director was paid $117,977. United Indians of All Tribes, which operates the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, has a total revenue of $3,071,096 for 2016. The YMCA of Greater Seattle had $114,020,761 revenue and $33,412,384 in contributions for 2019 and $96,413,336 revenue and $56,836,489 contributions in 2020. 

My point is not to instigate anyone into demonizing these organizations. The point is that no one is publicly condemning these organizations. Just like the rampant anti-Native racism that perpetuates even our lefty and radical communities, this author was not concerned about blowback about their obvious racism, because in Seattle, being racist against Natives is perfectly acceptable. This needs to change. 

DTS does show a net asset of $3,815,652. These public documents also show they continue to keep their costs down. Unless we go bother DTS, we can only infer what they could be saving this money for. Possibly they are holding onto it for future use in case someone writes a scathing article about them, and people stop donating. Since 2011, they have been running in a deficit of between approximately $80,000 to $120,000 until Real Rent Duwamish started. Recent numbers are typical of nonprofits in the region with similar cultural programming. 

The author quotes the Muckleshoot Tribal Council Vice Chair in saying that “More than 95 percent of the Muckleshoot’s tribal members ‘descend from the Duwamish People.’” 

This is misleading. Furthermore, the author tries to delegitimize the leader of the Duwamish because she is enrolled as part of the Suquamish. Choosing to enroll with a tribal nation does not delegitimize the right to enroll and be recognized as a Duwamish tribal nation citizen. This struggle is being portrayed as a money grab, but it is actually rooted in identity erasure and decolonization. This is one of the largest problems of this article. 

The reasoning given as to why not to pay “rent” to Real Rent Duwamish is that the Duwamish are not federally recognized, and part of their organizing efforts are going toward trying to get recognition. Even if DTS is just a cultural and support organization for Duwamish people, that reason alone is justification to support them. This whole inter-tribal conflict is clickbait and irrelevant to whether the Duwamish and DTS deserve financial support. 

There are many reasons to be formally recognized that exist outside of casinos. Recognition is an active form of decolonization. Colonization created a Duwamish diaspora with tribal members relocating to other recognized tribal nations and some trying to remain in the Seattle region. While these tribes have been a cultural memory for the Duwamish, it is not the same as having the colonial government recognize that the Duwamish exist. Federal recognition is complicated. As an article by The Seattle Times states: “In its decision to deny recognition, the government cited the failure of the Duwamish to remain an “American Indian entity” on a continuous basis as one of the reasons for the denial, despite the fact that it was the displacement of the tribe and exclusion from their own land that created the fractures in the first place.” 

This conflict is not about whether the Duwamish are a people who existed pre-colonization; the argument is whether they should be formally recognized and have the right to self-governance and access to the benefits allotted in the original treaty for the region without having to enroll as a citizen of a distinctly different tribal nation. 

Next, the author says, “Here are some facts everyone agrees on.”

Whether it is bad research or just plain ignorance, these facts are rarely facts. While yes, there were conflicts that happened prior to the Treaty of Point Elliott, it is not factual to say that these conflicts led to the treaty. The treaty was part of a nationwide European imperialist tactic to smooth a transition to colonial rule. There is a small moment of truth when the author points out that the U.S. never fulfilled its promises in the Treaty of Point Elliott, but sadly, this is a side note to the whole article instead of a major point. 

“During the shuffle, however, a small number of Duwamish women stayed put. They married white settlers in what came to be called Seattle. … These Native women became the matriarchs of clans whose descendants sit on the Duwamish Tribal Council,” the author writes.

There is a recurring theme that depicts Hansen as some white woman trying to appropriate Native identity. Let’s take a moment to just look at a picture of Hansen embedded in the original Seattle Met article and acknowledge that she is an enrolled member of the Suquamish tribal nation.

“From some legal angles … the Duwamish who did not relocate to reservations forfeited their claim to the benefits promised by the treaty.”

Again, this author chooses to judge the legitimacy of the claim to aboriginal rights based on colonial processes. Colonial violence should not dictate whether a marginalized group of people deserve support. The basis of the author’s article is colonizer law dependent on some misconceptions, i.e., the Duwamish left Seattle, gave up their rights by signing a treaty, then failed to relocate. Additionally, the author argues that they have not subsisted over time.

An ordinance in 1865 removed the last strongholds of Duwamish in Seattle. As stated in The Seattle Times, “those government-to-government promises were not kept. An 1865 Seattle ordinance mandated the expulsion of all Native people from Seattle; in 1866, white residents blocked a federal effort to create a reservation in Renton for the Duwamish once coal was discovered there. These decisions created the Duwamish diaspora in the region.”

Another article from The Seattle Times, “‘Real’ Duwamish: Seattle’s first people and the bitter fight over federal recognition,” reads, “To aid non-Native settlement of Washington Territory, created by Congress in 1853, Washington Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs Isaac Stevens worked to secure treaties with Native peoples of the region. His goal was to buy lands as cheaply as he could and remove Native people to as few and as small reservations as possible. … He carried a template treaty last used with the Omaha Indians. He came not to negotiate, but to dictate terms. This would be the second of 10 treaties Stevens would execute on behalf of the U.S., from Western Montana to Neah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula, over just 13 months.”

The Seattle Met article “The Tribe that Would Not Die” states, “Some signatories recalled hearing references to buckets of gold and reassurances that their reservations would lie in their Native territories. But Stevens committed no such promises to paper. The treaty actually required the scores of Puget Sound tribes to relocate to four reservations—Port Madison, Tulalip, Swinomish, and Lummi. Federal officials planned to merge these later at Tulalip and eventually pack all the territory’s natives onto the Yakama Reservation east of the Cascades. Most of the Duwamish rejected the terms, protesting that they were ‘not only required to leave their own lands,’ as one sympathetic Indian agent reported in 1857, ‘but to move upon lands owned and occupied by Indians whom they regarded with feelings of hatred.’”

The context of colonization, and recognition, is that these treaties were not meant to benefit Natives. 

That same Seattle Met article also contests that this band of the Duwamish are the same as the Muckleshoot band. It says, “Resistance paid off for the upriver Duwamish; they retained part of their traditional lands as the Muckleshoot Reservation. Seattle’s people, the downriver Duwamish, whose lands lay in the settlers’ paths, were not so fortunate.” 

Even the Muckleshoot website states, “Following the Reservation’s establishment in 1857, the Tribe and its members came to be known as Muckleshoot, rather than by the historic tribal names of their Duwamish and Upper Puyallup ancestors.” At the writing of this treaty, they were simply called names like the Green River Indians. Stevens, a colonizer, decided they were Duwamish.

Historically, Chief Seattle was the representative for both the Duwamish and the Suquamish as a descendant of the marriage between members of both tribes. A representative is very different from a ruler in European thought. An analogy is a pirate ship, where a captain is the leader but has to follow the predominant opinion or suffer a mutiny. 

The Duwamish had several distinct bands; 17 were documented by colonizers — not including all the river and lake bands. Later, all were defined by colonizers as Duwamish and then Muckleshoot — named after the Native word for the land the reservation is on. There were no people calling themselves Muckleshoot prior to colonization. This does not make the Muckleshoot bad. They survived, and that means everything. The Muckleshoot are not the only tribal nation created by colonizers. This dynamic is important to understand.

The Seattle Met’s “The Tribe that Would Not Die” further disproves the misconception that the Duwamish did not stay in Seattle:

“Refugees in their own land, this area’s first residents settled in villages along the banks of the Green, Cedar, and Black rivers, in shelters on the city’s waterfront and in tents on Ballast Island, a forlorn strip of boulders dumped off Alaskan Way by arriving cargo ships. … Still the Duwamish pushed for their own reservation and, in 1866, they nearly won it. Citing the need to correct deficiencies in the Treaty of Point Elliott, the U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs proposed establishing a 640-acre reservation along the Black River in today’s Renton, where 275 Duwamish already resided. But settlers had already discovered coal there and would never relinquish such a bonanza.“

Here are a couple of pictures of Ballast Island, a place on the waterfront where ships dropped their ballasts (a rock) when taking on cargo and the place the Duwamish who stayed in Seattle ended up inhabiting after being pushed out of everywhere else in Seattle. Eventually, they would also be pushed out of this location as well.

By the late 19th century, most Seattle-area Native Americans had been moved to reservations and were not allowed to live in the city. Sometime before 1895, visiting Native American people started camping on Ballast Island, at the foot of Washington Street. After 1895, waterfront development forced the encampment away from here. This photo shows canoes and tents at the Ballast Island encampment. (Photo from Museum of History and Industry via Wikimedia Commons)
A Native American camp on Ballast Island, vicinity of Washington St., Seattle, 1888-1889. (Photo from Arthur Churchill Warner Photographs Collection via Wikimedia Commons)

“And when the rights of Native Americans began to slowly expand during the twentieth century, their descendants never received access to the limited benefits that the government provides members of federally recognized tribes, such as Medicaid coverage and funds for things like college.”

This misconception that Natives get free money from the government is stereotyping and just false. Any money that enrolled tribal members received from the federal government was due to promises made because of the government’s mismanagement of land that was stolen historically and also contemporarily. Meaning that relocation and land grabs are still contemporary issues for Native populations on reservations. 

“The Duwamish women who stayed in Seattle gave up geographic closeness to their communities and connection to irreplaceable generational knowledge. But because of that decision, they had access to economic advantages that were denied to local reservations.”

Just because they did not relocate does not mean that they gave up closeness or any of their intergenerational knowledge nor necessarily had access to more wealth than their contemporaries on reservations. This is another logical fallacy. 

The article finishes with the author stating, “I don’t personally donate to Real Rent Duwamish anymore.” 

While not specifically stating that people should not give to the Duwamish, the article encourages people not to donate to Real Rent Duwamish. Most people do not have the Indigenous knowledge to critically read this biased article. Furthermore, most are unlikely to research but are likely to pass along the negatives without question, which can damage the work DTS is trying to do — create a home for the Duwamish people and get documented recognition that they are a people who exist.

I do encourage readers to do their own research, and I have included the research links I found while writing this response. If you choose to stop donating to the Duwamish, there are many Native-run organizations and tribes doing great work, across the nation but also right here in Seattle. 

Keep Paying Real Rent Somewhere!

The idea of paying rent to aboriginal inhabitants is reparations. Real Rent Duwamish helps DTS support 600 registered tribal members, as well as run a cultural center and a plethora of programs and projects. 

We, Seattle, as a community, need to be thoughtful about how we feed into harmful colonial culture. Writing this response has not been an enjoyable process. It has been time-consuming labor, unpaid — both emotionally and the work of writing. We, as a community, must stop being afraid of standing up to people who move through our communities like bullies — building themselves up by putting others down — and inflict that culture on Seattle. This is not our Seattle. Our Seattle has always been a place for the outcasts. The deep bass line and lyrics to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” pop in my head, the unofficial anthem for all the youth of Washington (when it came out). That is who we are: an accepting place for all. We might be a bit hardened and gruff (“Rat City”), but all love. This response is a call for us to be better. 

Really, at the end of all this, I have to ask just two questions left to stimulate the mind of the reader.

1. Why would it be harmful to other local tribal nations if the Duwamish became recognized? 

2. How can we shift our focus to the root of the problem: (neo-)colonialism?

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

📸 Featured Image: Chodups [sic] John, also called Lake Union John, was one of the few Duwamish people who didn’t move from Seattle to the Port Madison Reservation. He and his family lived north of Seattle on Portage Bay, part of Lake Union. In this photo, Chodups [sic] John and several other people sit in a canoe on Lake Union. A mast sticks out beyond the vessel’s notched prow. This Coast Salish canoe design was later replaced by the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootkan) style from the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. (Photo from Seattle Historical Society Collection Repository: Museum of History and Industry via Wikimedia Commons)

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