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Duwamish Tribe sues again for federal recognition

Joe Mabel
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Duwamish Tribal Council Chairwoman Cecile Hansen, great great grandniece of Chief Seattle, speaking at Wing Luke Museum on January 13, 2011. Appointed chairwoman in 1975, she has led the Duwamish Tribe's fight for federal recognition for almost five decades.

SEATTLE (AP) — A lawsuit was filed Wednesday seeking federal recognition for the Duwamish Tribe, whose forebears include Chief Seattle for whom the city of Seattle was named.

The Seattle Times reports the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington marks a continuing battle for recognition by the Duwamish through multiple presidential administrations for more than 40 years.

“Beginning in 1859 through at least the 1970s, dozens of acts of Congress and two U.S. courts have recognized the Duwamish Tribe as an Indian tribe and the successor in interest to the Tribe that signed the Treaty of Point Elliott,” the suit contends.

The suit also contends the federal government has illegally discriminated against the matriarchal tribe, by discounting its members, largely descended from marriages by Duwamish women with non-Indian men — a violation of the federal equal protection clause under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

The U.S. Department of Interior also did not use rules more favorable to the tribe when considering its prior filing, according to the suit, which was brought against Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and other federal officials by Cecile Hansen, longtime chairwoman of the Duwamish tribal council.

The suit seeks declaration by the court that the Duwamish are a federally recognized tribe. Alternatively, the suit demands the court set aside the denial of recognition in 2015 by the Obama administration, with instruction to reconsider the case under 2015 regulations in a manner “that does not discriminate against matrilineal tribes like the Duwamish, which primarily descend from Indian women.”

Federal recognition of a tribal group as a government opens the door to federal benefits, required government-to-government consultation, and privileges including operation of casinos.

Federal law allows tribal governments to run such casinos to fund tribal government programs.

The Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Tulalip and Puyallup tribes have in newspaper ads, op-eds and correspondence argued that the Duwamish persist indeed — as enrolled members of recognized tribes all over the region, enjoying all the rights and benefits of enrollment.

They also say the U.S. kept its promise in 1855 of creating reservations at Lummi, Tulalip, Swinomish, and for the Duwamish, at Port Madison with the Suquamish. In 1857, another reservation was created at Muckleshoot, where Duwamish people also could go.

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