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Discovering His History Made Ken Workman See Himself In A New Light

Jennifer Wing
Ken Workman is a Duwamish Tribal Council member. He was raised to never speak of his native heritage. Later in life, he discovered that he is a direct decendent of Chief Sealth.

This story originally aired on April 29, 2017.

Ken Workman always knew that part of his family tree was rooted in the Duwamish Indian Tribe. But, being Native American when he was growing up in the 1960s in Seattle was a topic he was told not to share with anyone.


“It was very bad to be a Native American; very bad. It was so bad that Great Grandma

never said anything about being Duwamish and she took it to her grave. Great Grandma apparently knew the ways. She knew how to go down to the beach and just eat. She knew the berries to pick. She knew what the nettles were for the mushrooms and all of that stuff,” recalls Workman.


About 10 years ago doing some online genealogy research, Ken discovered that not only is he Duwamish, but he is also a direct descendent of Chief Sealth, the man for whom Seattle is named.


“If I had known all of this a long, long, time ago, of course my life would have been different. But it would also mean that for every day that I was alive I would know about the woods, about the Duwamish, about the family tree. I would be in the fight. So the Duwamish Tribe itself today fights for federal recognition. If I had known that back then I would have been part of that fight,” said Workman.


Learning about his past inspired Ken to dive into his Duwamish heritage and to master the Lushootseed language. Today, Ken is in the fight. He’s a Duwamish Tribal Council member.


Ken Workman’s discovery of his old self is what this episode of Sound Effect is about. The theme for this week’s show is “The Old Me.” All of the stories in this show are about people revisiting different versions of themselves.





Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.