How Can One Sell the Air?: Chief Seattles Vision

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At the start of the twenty-first century the Duwamish people were scattered throughout the Puget Sound area. They owned no tribal lands. Some, however, lived as registered members on the reservations of other tribes so they could receive services and health benefits from the U. Bureau of Indian Affairs. In they filed the necessary paperwork, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied their request in the mids because the tribe had no land; the decision stated that without land they could not be considered a tribe.

In the tribe established a nonprofit group, Duwamish Tribal Services, to preserve their culture and provide for the educational, health, and social needs of the tribe. Without federal recognition, the tribe receives no benefits from the U. The Duwamish continued to fight for their rights, and in they received federal recognition.

The victory was short-lived, however, as that decision was overturned in when a new presidential administration took over and declared the previous ruling void. The Duwamish have not given up hope and continue to petition the government for federal recognition. To help their people in the meantime, they created the Duwamish Management Corporation in By teaching their language and traditional practices, the Duwamish are not only supporting tribal artists, musicians, and elders of the tribe, but they are keeping their culture strong and passing it on to the younger generations.

The tribes of the Puget Sound believed that beings with both human and animal qualities existed long ago. One such figure—called the Transformer—came into the world and defeated the dangerous creatures there—creatures like the soul-stealing earth dwarves, the food-stealing forest giants, and the wife-stealing underwater people.

Like other Puget Sound tribes, the Duwamish believed in a land of the dead and in the possibility of the dead being reborn. Salmon held a place of importance in the lives of the people. Most of the Salish people believed that salmon were once people and that they willing gave up their lives to become food for the tribe.

To honor this sacrifice, the Duwamish held a ceremony of welcome and thanks when they caught the first fish each year. In the early s some Duwamish, including Chief Seattle, converted to the Catholic religion, although many people still retained their Native beliefs. Seattle had been converted by French missionaries and baptized as Noah. With his new faith, he started morning and evening church services among Native Americans that continued even after his death. One of the traditional beliefs of the Duwamish was that speaking the name of a dead person would disturb its spirit.

For this reason, when Chief Seattle agreed to give his name to the city of Seattle, he asked for a small payment to make up for the trouble his spirit would experience each time his name was mentioned. In the early s great numbers of Duwamish converted to the Indian Shaker Church, which combined elements of both Christianity and tribal religions.

Many other tribes in the area also spoke this dialect, including the Nisqually, Puyallup see entries , and Suquamish. Although only a few people were fluent in the Duwamish language in recent years, the tribe has been working to revitalize the language. Here are a few Lushootseed words; for others see Nisqually and Puyallup entries. There was no formal village leader among the Duwamish, but the wealthiest head of a house was usually accepted as the headman.

He took charge of making economic and political decisions. In the late s some of the remaining Duwamish people lived on the Suquamish and the Muckleshoot reservations and participated in the governmental systems of those tribes. The Muckleshoot Reservation has a general council as well as a tribal council.


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Leadership includes a chief administrative officer, a planning director, a comptroller, and several coordinators who oversee health and human services, community services, education, and natural resources. They also have a tribal court system.

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On the Port Madison Reservation the Suquamish General Council meets twice a year and is composed of all enrolled tribal members. The seven members of the tribal council are elected to staggered three-year terms. The tribe also has both elder and youth councils to offer advice to the tribal council. The Duwamish who did not move to the reservations wrote a tribal constitution and bylaws in In they organized under the leadership of the great, great grandniece of Chief Seattle, Cecile Hansen. Hansen, the elected chair of the tribe, founded Duwamish Tribal Services in to administer social service programs for the tribe.

Before contact with Europeans, the Duwamish gathered and fished for their food. In the s they were forced off their ancestral lands and onto reservations. White officials and religious leaders expected the Native people to give up their traditional ways. Although the U.

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Corrupt officials sometimes kept or sold supplies that were meant for Duwamish people. Left with no other alternatives, many Duwamish began to work in sawmills, in commercial fisheries, and on farms, as some still do today. On the reservation many people are employed in forestry, fishing, agriculture, and tourism. Casinos also bring in revenue for the tribes.

The Duwamish Tribe established Duwamish Management Corporation to create businesses to strengthen the economic well-being of tribal members who live off-reservation.

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Family was, and is, very important to the Duwamish. Villages were composed of extended families parents, children, and other relatives. These groups of relatives resided together in a large house where each family had their own section of the house. Homes were one big open area, divided by mats to form areas for the individual families. Family names related to the place where their home was located. Most Duwamish families were made up of a man and one or more wives, their children, and sometimes unmarried relatives and slaves.

The Duwamish built plank houses—a popular style in the Pacific Northwest.

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Some of the homes were open in the center, with roofs supported by posts. In the summer the tribe constructed temporary campsite structures covered with woven mats. A series of forts surrounded by stake-filled ditches protected the Duwamish from invaders. It was feet long meters and 50 to 60 feet 15 to 18 meters wide. The Duwamish attended ceremonies at the Old Man House and may have built smaller versions of this structure prior to the twentieth century. In summer men went naked or wore breechcloths pieces of material that went between the legs and fastened at the waist.

Women donned aprons and skirts made of cedar bark. In cool weather both sexes wore blankets woven of mountain goat wool, adding leggings, shirts, and moccasins as it got colder. Women wore necklaces made of shells, teeth, and claws; they also tattooed their legs and chins. Both sexes wore shell earrings. Hair was usually long and braided. Young men plucked out their facial hair; older men let it grow. People decorated their faces and bodies with oil and paint, and wealthy people wore nose ornaments. The Duwamish diet centered around fish, especially salmon.

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The people caught and gathered many freshwater and saltwater creatures, including herring, smelt, flounder, halibut, sturgeon, clams, crabs, crayfish, mussels, and oysters. Overall, the Duwamish relied more on wild foods and game than did the tribes closer to the coast or farther north. Their main prey were deer and elk, but they also hunted and trapped black bear, beaver, raccoon, otter, muskrat, and twenty kinds of waterfowl.

Berries, ferns, roots, nuts, bulbs, and sprouts added variety to their diet. Both boys and girls learned to read the tides, knew where rocks and logjams were located, and understood the currents. Canoe building and repair were also important skills. In modern times many students attend public schools, although some children study at the Muckleshoot Tribal School on the reservation.

Language classes are available both on and off the reservation.

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Some ailments could be cured by the use of plants and herbs, but other diseases required a medicine man called a shaman pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun to either recapture the missing soul and return it to the body or to remove the disease-causing foreign object through chants and rituals. Most shaman were male, and their training started at the age of seven or eight. In modern times many Duwamish rely on traditional herbs for healing.


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In the Pacific Northwest, they have access to hundreds of herbs and use them, along with knowledge passed down through the generations, to prevent and cure many illnesses. Like other people of the Pacific Northwest, the Duwamish carved the images of mythical figures onto the wooden posts they placed in front of their houses. They also used their carving skills to build and decorate their houses and to construct their canoes. Women created baskets from plant fibers; these baskets were woven tightly enough to hold liquids and foods for cooking.

Duwamish society was made up of free people and slaves. The free population was divided into upper and lower classes.

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