In a lifetime spent unearthing stories from history’s cellar as an award winning filmmaker, Sandra Osawa has discovered her fair share of untidy portions of the past that most would sooner forget. Osawa, however, has made it her mission to shed ample amounts of daylight on the travesties of yesterday and their lingering residue found in our present times.
The local documentarian brings her latest work Princess Angeline- which details the displacement and plight of the Duwamish tribe through the eyes of Chief Seattle’s daughter- to Beacon Hill’s Meaningful Movies next Friday. Osawa, whose films primarily deal with Native American culture, is hoping the screening will inform South Seattleites about the true origins of the land they now occupy.
Emerald: What was it about the saga of the Duwamish Tribe that intrigued you enough to make this film with Princess Angeline as the centerpiece?
Sandra Osawa: I had already been visiting a lot of Indian communities and doing a lot of Indian stories. Here in Seattle I started to think about the lack of visibility of the local tribe, and how no one really spoke about them. In fact you don’t see anything that identifies that this was once their land. On many reservations and tribes you visit, you will see immediate evidence of there being Indians nearby, or some facts of knowledge of who these people were, but not in Seattle. I was just talking about how funny it is that even the totem poles they have here in the city are from another tribe and another area. So with this film we thought we should do something local. The more we got into it, the more we found out that this was a very big story that had national implications because there are probably currently over 500 tribes that are unrecognized by the Federal Government.
The Duwamish is just one example of a tribe that has been legislated out of existence and ignored for who they are. That’s what got us in, and what made us stay was that the more we got into it the more we saw that this story had wide implications. Here this city is named after Chief Seattle but his tribe isn’t even recognized.
Emerald: What surprises did you encountered while making this documentary and what surprises do you think those who watch it- who may only have a cursory knowledge of Chief Seattle and the Duwamish- are in store for?
Osawa: I think there are a lot of surprises because the documentary covers a lot of early history. I think what surprised me most was that the City of Seattle actually had an ordinance-the fifth one the city ever passed- that banned all Indians from the city in 1865. This was just 10 years after the US Government signed a treaty with the Duwamish promising them a reservation of their own. I think people are really going to be jolted by that because we don’t really hear any mention of that today. How the early people were treated is not taught in our schools.
The other aspect was just how much the city was transformed and grew at the expense of the Duwamish people.You learn a lot about how the Black River was basically wiped out. The river was extremely important to the Duwamish for food and survival. So I think in looking over the early history, people will start to get a good idea of some of the truth of what really happened to the native people here. But, it’s not just the past, I think people are going to learn some interesting things about the present predicament of the Duwamish.
Emerald: Displacement is one of the main currents that runs through this film. That’s a theme very familiar to people who live in the south end of Seattle in the form of gentrification. Obviously your story deals with more forceful and coercive means in which people were extracted from their homeland, but are there any similarities you gleaned from what transpired with the Duwamish and what is currently happening in Seattle’s south end?
Osawa: Yes, I think a lot of it is that we don’t have any political power at all. Certainly the poor and minorities don’t, similar to the Duwamish. They say you can tell a lot from watching how a society treats the least of those amongst it because that’s how they might end up treating you. You have to be careful of how society treats those without power because that’s the true test of a society, and whether you’re going to be a great society or a great civilization or not. So that’s the similarity I would see. It remains very difficult for those without power to obtain it, even if you have a great spokesperson like Chief Seattle.
One thing many people don’t know is that there is a another speech that Chief Seattle wrote, not the,“We are all brothers after all” speech, but one of the last speeches he gave before his death. It was a plea for land for the Duwamish people because they were starving and had actually been fighting for land that was rightfully theirs ever since they signed the treaty with the Federal Government.
Emerald: Do you think the history of how the city of Seattle came into being has fallen victim to revisionism?
Osawa: Yes, I think that this story has not been told. When we first decided to do this film, we were focused on the postcards of Princess Angeline. She became somewhat of a collector’s item on spoons, plates, etc, but we wanted to look beyond that. We wanted to look beyond those souvenir items and ask, “Well what is the story of this person?” and “Why didn’t she want to leave Seattle even though she was ordered to?” So, that really becomes the story along with presenting a story about people who are takers. They wanted to take the name of Chief Seattle but they didn’t have the decency to recognize his tribe as a people, or to treat them as human beings.
This story is never told. My kids went to school in Seattle and they didn’t learn anything about the local tribe or any Indian history in general. I think that this is a spotlight on it, and I think it’s better for us as a society to look at reality and see history as it was, not as we would wallpaper it over and want it to be because it makes us stronger people when we grapple with reality. If we know the past we’re better able to solve the problems of the present and the future.
Emerald: Beacon Hill Meaningful Movies’ intention is for people to actively engage in conversation around the ideas put forth by a film. What conversations are you hoping ensue after the screening?
Osawa: We actually showed the film at the Meaningful Movies in West Seattle and the organizers there had the idea of making postcards available to send to President Obama that asked him to recognize the tribe by Executive Order before he leaves office. The Duwamish was actually recognized during the end of the Clinton years, but there was a political reversal when George W Bush came into office. There’s a legal challenge that is currently pending as the tribe has said there is no basis for the reversal. So, I’m hoping the conversation will lead to direct action like that because the tribe has been tangled up in so much bureaucracy in general that they have had a difficult struggle for decades- really since the treaty was signed.
The Duwamish have recently purchased their own land after not having any for so long- a few acres in West Seattle- and are attempting to forge ahead, but I think the question turns to what can local people do to support the tribe’s fight for federal recognition. I think that would be a good thing. We’ll try to have some possible answers on hand.
Sandra Osawa will be in attendance on Friday, November 21st as Beacon Hill Meaningful Movies presents Princess Angeline. The screening begins at 7:00pm and will take place at the Garden House: 2336 15th Avenue South.
Princess Angeline will also be screened on Feb 28th at the Northwest Film Forum. Find out more here.
Liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof writes: “The midterm elections were a stinging repudiation of President Obama…” (New York Times, 11/7). Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus claims that the elections signify “the embrace of the values of conservative governing” (Wall Street Journal, 11/6). In my view, both of these interpretations are flawed – the former because it is incomplete; the latter because it is inaccurate. Referencing these (and other) problematic election narratives, Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report asserts: “The Wednesday morning quarterbacking will be loud, and include voices who don’t have a clue as to what they are talking about” (NYT, 11/5).
Indeed, there were multiple drivers of the Republican midterm victory. First, mid-term elections have historically been difficult for presidents. Since WWII, the party of the incumbent president has lost an average of 29.5 congressional seats per midterm election (NYT, 11/5). Second, this phenomenon was compounded in this election by the profile of the specific Senate seats that were open. President Obama’s staff research indicated that, “…no president in more than a half-century had as many Senate seats open in states lost by the president [in the general election]” (NYT, 11/5). Third, the widespread view that Congress is ineffectual and mired in gridlock engendered a demand for change (Congress’ Gallup approval ratings were at 14% in October, and at 9% last November — an all-time low). Fourth, many analysts believe that the GOP strategy of obstructionism is intended to foment public dissatisfaction in order to create a demand for change. Paul Krugman writes: “But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy…Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to block effective policy…This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for the Republicans” (NYT, 11/7). Fifth, voter turnout was extremely low. Less than 37% of eligible voters voted, down from 41% in the 2010 midterms. This decline in voter participation hurt the Democratic Party disproportionately, as it many of its constituent bases (e.g., African-American, Hispanic, youth, lower-income) had low participation rates. Columnist Johnathon Martin observes: “Voters who turned out Tuesday were older, whiter and more conservative than those who participated in 2012. Sixty-five percent of those who voted were over age 45, compared with 54 percent in 2012. Seventy-five percent of the electorate was white: two years ago it was 72 percent” (NYT, 11/6). And analyst Laura Meckler notes that white voters favored the GOP candidates by 20 percentage points (NYT, 11/5). Sixth, the economy played a role in fueling discontent, even though the outlook has improved dramatically under Obama. From the depths of the Great Recession, the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen from 10% to 5.8%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen from 6,547 to 17,574; the U.S. budget deficit has fallen in real terms from $1.6 trillion to $483 billion; and U.S. per capita GDP growth rates exceed those of most advanced economies. Nonetheless, despite this strong performance, the fact remains that GDP growth rates in the aftermath of the Great Recession lag historic norms. Journalist Daniel Henninger observes: “Low economic growth in the modern U.S. economy is a total, across-the-board, top-to-bottom political loser” (WSJ, 11/6).
All of these factors – historical election dynamics, pathetic Congressional performance, GOP tactics, voter demographics, and economic considerations – served to fuel a nationwide movement for change. These do not amass to a referendum on Obama (although his job approval rating of 42% was certainly a contributing factor). Nor do these factors suggest a mandate for a conservative agenda. Indeed, one of the most telling statistics of the election addresses voter discontent. Jackie Calmes and Megan Thee-Brenan explain: “…one-quarter of the voters who supported the [GOP] party’s candidates did so despite harboring bad feelings about the party. Among voters who backed Democrats, a significantly smaller share was negative toward that party” (NYT, 11/5). Instead, I believe that the 2014 midterm results are primarily a referendum against the ineffectual, ideological, non-substantive, partisan impasse that increasingly characterizes American politics. Consultant Frank Luntz expresses this thesis: “In fact, if Americans could speak with one collective voice – all 310 million of them – this is what they said Tuesday night: ‘Washington doesn’t listen, Washington doesn’t lead and Washington doesn’t deliver.’” (NYT, 11/6) Voters responded to this by voting for change.
Unfortunately, as noted by numerous analysts, voters will likely be disappointed with the results. The gridlock they oppose has deep roots that will remain untouched by the election: district gerrymandering to ensure that very few races are competitive (the Cook Political Report states that the number of competitive House seats fell from 100 to 39 between 2010 to 2014) — a phenomenon that favors more ideologically extreme candidates; the tremendous increase in corporate and institutional campaign spending (due largely to the Citizens United decision); the explosion of PACs, Super PACs, and PAC servicing organizations; lack of campaign finance transparency (“dark money”); lack of term limits and top-two primaries in most states; etc. Derek Willis writes: “Conservatives in the next House of Representatives will be more conservative and its liberals more liberal” (NYT, 11/6). And Larry Jacobs of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota predicts that the elections will bring forth, “More of the same, but even more so. It’s going to be even more bitter, partisan, white-knuckle politics” (USA Today, 11/5).
In sum, the elections were not primarily anti-Obama or pro-GOP, but rather an attempt to effect institutional change. They were characterized by two anomalous attributes: a massive candidate overhaul in the midst of an improving economic climate; and an attempt to address a dysfunctional political system by increasing its polarization. Given the magnitude of the aforementioned structural factors that are actually driving ineffectual governance, the reformist objectives of this election are unlikely to succeed.
At the State Level, several additional observations can be made. First, the balance of power in Olympia has changed very little in this election cycle. Indeed, the most significant political change for Washington State will be at the national level, due to the decline in influence of Senators Murray and Cantwell as the GOP assumes Senate leadership. Second, Washington State’s decline in voter turnout between 2010 and 2014 (at over 15%) was amongst the highest in the nation. Third, as national politics becomes increasingly dysfunctional, initiatives for change are increasingly emanating from the states. Columnist Froma Harrop writes: “A modern, future-oriented agenda has been advancing on the state level – as progressive governors rush into the vacuum of inaction left by Washington [D.C.]” (Seattle Times, 11/6). Washington State has clearly established itself as a leader in this movement, playing significant roles in the LGBTG equality, marijuana legalization and minimum wage increase movements that are expanding nationally. And with the passage of I-594 (closing the background check loophole for gun purchases), Washington State is positioned to be a catalyst for nationwide change in gun control policy. If there is a silver lining in the 2014 elections, perhaps this is it — the continued dysfunction in Washington D.C. is being countered, to some extent, by important contributions from Washington State.
John Stafford is a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools and a former management consultant in corporate strategy. He recently completed a run for State Senate in the 37th District. He is writing a monthly article on public policy for the South Seattle Emerald
No less than Plato – begetter of Western Civilization that he is – intoned that “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history,” if so, a cortege of verisimilitude fastened to Seattle’s southern parcel will soon be trekking through King County proper. However, its vehicle of choice should drop the jaws to pavement of any who find the medium analogous to high brow, elite or esoteric, for it has gleefully forsaken any extravagant conveyance to venture with the layperson by bus!
Beginning Monday, King County Metro buses will prominently display the lyrical prose of local poets just above the heads of Metro riders in placards that are usually reserved for advertisements and public service announcements as part of Poetry on Buses.
A product of 4Culture – King County’s Public Development Authority that essentially functions as its arts curator – Poetry on Buses’ intent is to bring broader exposure to the work of King County poets – whether master or novice – to a captive audience of bus riders throughout the county.
With 4Culture sending out a call for poems last spring (using libraries, schools, community centers and of course buses as channels to generate awareness of the project), over 620 people from around the county sent in submissions hoping to have their words graced by the eyeballs of metro commuters during the intervening time between allowing Joe Metro to shuffle them to and from work.
The only criteria poets were required to adhere to outside of length considerations – buses are only so large after all as anyone who has taken Metro route 7 can attest – was that their poems had to somehow touch on the theme of “Writing Home.”
Of the 365 poets whose work was chosen to be showcased, only 125 will actually have their melodic verse featured on buses while the rest will have their poetry featured on the project’s website. Thirty-eight of them reside in South Seattle, hailing from the neighborhoods of Skyway, Rainier Beach, Hillman City, Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Georgetown and Columbia City.
It’s believed to have one of, if not the highest, representation of any area in Washington’s most populous county. Another voucher to aid in the area earning its moniker of the “New Harlem.”
“4Culture has been working hard to expand our reach in South King County,” says Jim Kelly, Executive Director of 4Culture, “and we’re very excited there are so many strong poetic voices from this community that have found an opportunity to express themselves through Poetry on Buses.”
Though it might be easy for many south end natives to blithely dismiss the announcement as simple literary window dressing – and if they had their druthers they would much prefer buses that actually ran on time coupled with plenty of seating naked of any decor whatsoever – there is no small shortage of people who see it as a desperately sought for opportunity to trumpet narratives of the south end that are rarely heard by anyone outside of the immediate area.
“Poetry on Buses means a lot to me as I have been living a life of homelessness until recently,” said Gabriella Duncan who lives in the Skyway area.
“I am now temporarily housed at the Seattle Catholic Worker. Before that I rode buses with my friends outside to understand the critical value of having bus tickets especially in the winter. I myself have a terrible fear of buses! One of my posts on Facebook included a picture I took of myself because my car broke down and I had to ride the bus! I was out of mind with fear!”
Duncan adds that her time without either housing or transportation to call her own gave her a newfound appreciation for taking the bus – especially one that may act as a mobile exhibition of her poetry. “I learned a hard lesson about survival of our (homeless) friends and the survival of our transit system here in my new home (of Skyway). It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share that.”
Poetry on Buses will officially kick off tomorrow with a launch party held at the Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle, and will include live poetry readings, music and cocktails. Those who exclusively commute via either car, bike or Nike will not be left out from savoring the melodic verse of south end poets, as they can venture digitally to Poetry on Buses’ website and be treated to a new poem every day until November 9th.
That being said, there may be no substitute for actually experiencing the words of the “Bards of South Seattle ” on the big yellow and green taxis of King County Metro as one local poet whose work was not selected quipped, “Now that is what I call poetry in motion!”
Some expressed outrage at the city for what they view as gross negligence. Some reserved their indignation for the craven perpetuator of a deplorable crime. And still others probed for concrete solutions to a problem that continues to plague the southend of Seattle with abnormal frequency- yet all gathered together last Saturday at 2:00 pm at the Columbia City Light Rail Station to participate in a “walking vigil” for the 7 year old victim of a hit and run car collision.
One month prior, Zeytuna Edo- walking a short distance from her home to a tutoring class- was crossing the street along Genesee and Martin Luther King Jr Way S with her family, when an unidentified car, struck her, leaving her unconscious, bleeding body in the middle of a busy intersection, furiously speeding away before any witnesses could identify the driver behind the wheel of the vehicle.
Edo-who is currently hospitalized and only recently emerged from critical condition- sustained multiple injuries, most significantly to her head. The rapid response of paramedics to the scene is credited with saving her life.
The Seattle Police Department continues to search for the person who hit her, and is asking anyone who may have any information on the event to come forward.
“I think it is completely wrong that a kid can get hit in the street and a person can drive off and not care,” said Adam Dodge, a local Columbia City resident who came to the vigil to lend his support to Zeytuna’s family.
While nearly everyone in the crowd of more than 100 people who attended the vigil walk- which commenced at MLK Jr Way S and Alaska ended several yards north on MLK Way and Genessee- shared in Dodge’s disgust at the tragedy, many in attendance saw it as symptomatic of a much broader issues-what they feel is the city’s indifference at calming traffic along busy southend arterials- most notably Martin Luther King Jr Way S and Rainier Avenue South.
With the area experiencing a series of car accidents- most recently a massive wreck involving 15 cars and injuring 10 people that transpired on Rainier Avenue South just a day before the vigil- most southend natives have been left scratching their heads in attempts at pinpointing the root cause of all the vehicular calamity the area has suffered through in recent months.
“I think the issue is road design, traffic planning and education,” said Barb Norman, a local who had for some time been concerned about the speeds cars were permitted to go as they entered into the densely populated neighborhoods.
“We have a similar issue in the north end. We have very busy streets like MLK Way,” said Selena Carsiotis- who is a safe streets activist and ventured from her Crown Hill neighborhood to be part of the vigil as well as to take part in a dialogue centering around what can be done to make all Seattle streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“I was looking at the wreck that happened on Rainier Avenue South where 10 people were injured. I think its speed and freight that is the main thing causing these accidents. Also, this area is a state freight corridor and I think that might be one of the challenges to the city’s ability to slow speeds. So we might need some collaboration with other jurisdictions to make that happen, but it can happen.”
Both Seattle City Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Director Scott Kubly attended the vigil and reiterated their committed to calming traffic in the area. SDOT had previously scheduled two Rainier Avenue Road Safety Meetings- taking place November 12th and 18th with the intention of relaying the city’s plans for taming traffic along South Seattle arterials to the community and seeking their feedback.
Earlier this week, November 6, SDOT hosted a public meeting at the Hillman City Collaboratory to start a discussion on improving safety, keeping speed low, and helping people cross busy streets, part of SDOT’s effort of implementing a North- South Spine greenway in 2015- north south neighborhood greenway connecting Rainier Beach with Mt. Baker. The gathering had about 45 in attendance, including residents, business owners, community leaders and Rainier Valley Greenways organizers.
Residents hope that the meetings will provide more action than talk, as several have grown exhausted dealing with an issue they feel the city should have addressed long ago. This was on full display at a “Solutions Meeting,” hosted by Rainier Valley Greenways- the main proponents of
city prioritization of safe southend streets for walkers and bicycle riders – that was held directly after the vigil at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club.
Interactions between the mayor-who spoke at the Boys & Girls Club- and community members often grew testy as many remained unsatisfied with the city’s response to the ongoing rash of accidents.
“I really hope that something actually comes out of these (upcoming) meetings and that SDOT can put some immediate measures in to slow the traffic. That would improve what’s been happening in the area immediately,” iterated Norman.
With the cacophony of opinion surrounding what, if anything, the city can actually do to ensure safe, walkable southend streets, it seemed almost inevitable that the original impetus of the vigil would be drowned out, however, the thought of the 7 year old girl who was transferred to Children’s Hospital early last week after being at Harborview Medical Center since the incident, was never far from anyone’s mind.
“Our first goal today is to make sure that Zeytuna- her family, her friends, her relatives- know that we are here to support her as a community,” shared Phyllis Porter, who assisted Edo’s family in organizing the vigil.
“Zeytuna and her family is in our hearts. We will hold the idea that our community can be a safe and healthy place for everyone and the streets we walk on can be a good place for us to live”, continued Porter.
If you’d like to help:
come forward if you are the driver of the hit and run collision or know
the person who did this horrific act. Please call the Traffic Collision
Investigators with any information at (206) 684-8923.
Family of Zeytuna is asking for assistance with bus tickets-this will assist her family on their daily travel to Children Hospital to visit Zeytuna on the north side of town.
So let’s face it, though the Seahawks have been winning as of late they have been doing it in less than impressive fashion. Thankfully for the 12th man that all changes today as the lowly New York Giants visit Century Link Field later this afternoon.
The Giants- coming off of three games were they were barely even competitive, losing by an average margin of nearly 18 points- should provide easy pickings for the Seahawks.
Prediction: Seahawks 35 Giants 21
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