A few ways to honor Indigenous People’s Day this year include:
We don’t pretend to be experts on indigenous culture, but we can provide a few basic facts to help everyone get more informed.
- Like totem poles, to start with. Based on all the totem poles you see in Seattle and totem artwork you find in gift shops around here, one would assume totem poles are local. But they aren’t. They aren’t a traditional art form of the Coast Salish people, and in fact belong to the indigenous people of Coastal Alaska and Canada. Back in 1899, a group of men from Seattle found an abandoned totem pole while visiting Alaska, they brought it back to Seattle, and it became a thing. That’s the whole story.
- The Dxʷdəwʔabš (Duwamish) tribe is Seattle’s only indigenous tribe. Traditional Duwamish territory included Seattle, Burien, Tukwila, Renton, and Redmond. Today, the tribe is governed by a constitution that was created in 1925 and by a tribal council that meets monthly. The Duwamish tribe is not, however, officially recognized by the federal government. The tribe began efforts to restore their sovereignty in 1978, and the Clinton administration acknowledged them in 2001—only to have the decision reversed in 2002 by the Bush administration. The tribe appealed their case is 2015, but it’s still pending in the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.
- The Duwamish tribe has 572 living members, most of whom live in Washington State. Native peoples from all tribes make up up 0.8% of Seattle’s population.
- The Salish Sea area was the densest area of pre-European North America. In 1790, an estimated 150,000 shed roof plank houses lined the shores of the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia.
Stand with the Duwamish
To support our area’s native tribe, you can:
- Send a letter of support to your government representatives, urging them to recognize the Duwamish tribe. Duwamish Tribal Chairperson Cecile Hansen has called for “an uprising from the citizens of this city.” In particular, she has asked people to write letters.
- Visit the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center in West Seattle. The center is near a major Duwamish village that dates back to 600 A.D., and it provides a rare opportunity for the public to learn about native history via walking tours and exhibits. The Center is free and open to the public five day days a week: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Publicly acknowledge the original stewards of the land by making a land acknowledgement.
Appreciate Native art
Coastal Salish artwork is the traditional indigenous style of the Puget Sound region. Examples of this artwork include carved objects like house posts, woven blankets, and twined baskets made from pounded cedar bark.
Today, contemporary Native American artists in this region incorporate new materials (like glass and metal) into traditional styles. You can see Native American artwork at:
- Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center
- Burke Museum (re-opens October 12!)
- Seattle Art Museum
- Stonington Gallery
- Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center
- Public art installations around the region
This is the month for events that celebrate and honor Seattle’s indigenous people. Northwest Folklife created an excellent list of upcoming events.