August 21, 2016

Duwamish Tribe


The Duwamish Tribe are an unrecognized Lushootseed Native American tribe in western Washington, and the original indigenous people of metropolitan Seattle. The Duwamish tribe descends from at least two distinct groups from before intense contact with people of European ancestry—the People of the Inside (the environs of Elliott Bay) and the People of the Large Lake (Lake Washington).

Official Tribal Name: Duwamish Tribe

Address: 4705 West Marginal Way SW
Phone: 206-431-1582
Fax: 206-431-1962

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Un-Recognized. The Duwamish were party to land claims against the federal government in the 1930s and 1950s. Following the Boldt Decision (1974, upheld 1979) they sought inclusion per the Treaty of Point Elliott, and in 1977 filed a petition, together with the Snohomish and Steilacoom (Chillacum), for federal recognition that is still pending. The Duwamish Tribe (as of November 2013) are currently continuing their litigation for the purpose of gaining tribal recognition in the ongoing case Hansen et al vs. Kempthorne et al, Case # 2:2008cv00717, Western Washington Federal District Court, King County, Washington, Judge John C. Coughenour presiding.

The Duwamish Tribe’s chances of federal recognition hinge, in large part, on proving they have “continually maintained an organized tribal structure since their ancestors signed treaties with the United States in the 1850s.” U.S. District Judge George Boldt (1903–1984) found in 1979 that the tribe had not existed continuously as an organized tribe (within the meaning of federal law) from 1855 to the present, and was therefore ineligible for treaty fishing rights. A gap in the record from 1915-1925 prompted Boldt’s decision.

According to Russel Barsh, attorney for the Samish in that tribe’s effort to gain recognition, which succeeded in 1996, “the Samish proved in a hearing that Judge Boldt’s decision against these tribes was based on incomplete and erroneous evidence.” This would argue for allowing an appeal of the decision.

In the mid-1980s the BIA concluded that since the Duwamish Indians have no land, they cannot be recognized as a “tribe.”

In June 1988, 72 descendants of Washington settlers reversed their ancestors and petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs in support of federal recognition of the Duwamish tribe. The signers were members of the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington, which maintains Pioneer Hall in Madison Park as a meeting hall and archive of pioneer records.

In the mid-1990s proposals were made in Congress to extinguish all further efforts by unrecognized tribes to gain recognition. These were defeated. Success or continued failure tends to drift with the national mood and leanings of Congress. Effectively, recognition turns upon the mood of Congress with respect to honoring treaties with Native Americans. Occasionally tribes succeed, in such as with the Boldt Decision in 1974.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) denied recognition in 1996. The tribe then assembled additional evidence for its active existence through the decade in question. Evidence was assembled from Catholic church records, news reports, oral histories, and further tracing of bloodlines. Ken Tollefsen, a retired Pacific University anthropologist, helped assemble the additional data. This new evidence prompted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reverse its 1996 decision, and the tribe briefly won federal recognition in January 2001, in the waning days of the Clinton administration. However, the ruling was voided in 2002 by the Bush administration, citing procedural errors.

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

The people living around Elliott Bay, the Duwamish, Black and Cedar Rivers were collectively known as the Dkhw’Duw’Absh (pronounced doo-AHBSH), meaning “People of the Inside.” There were four prominent villages on Elliott Bay and the then-estuarial lower Duwamish River.

The people living around Lake Washington were collectively known as the hah-choo-AHBSH, meaning “People of the Large Lake.” Another group strong culturally associated with the “People of the Large Lake” are the Ha-achu-abshs  or Ha-achu-AHBSH, meaning “People of the Small Lake or People of the Little Lake” living around Lake Union. At the time of initial major European contact, these people considered themselves distinct from the related People of the Inside, with whom they are joined in today’s Duwamish tribe.

Prior to the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in the 1910s, Lake Washington drained into the Black River in what is now Renton. The Black River joined the Cedar and White (now Green) rivers to become the Duwamish River and emptied into southeast Elliott Bay. As European contact increased, the People of the Large Lake and the People of the Inside became unified under the name of the Duwamish Tribe.

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Duwamish

Alternate names / Alternate Spellings / Misspellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Pacific Northwest Coast

State(s) Today: Washington

Traditional Territory: The Duwamish had two bands: the People of the Inside (living around Elliott Bay) and the People of the Large Lake (Lake Washington). They are the original inhabitants of what is now the Seattle metropolitan area. Thirteen prominent villages were located in what is now the City of Seattle.

Confederacy: Salish

Treaties: The Treaty of Point Elliott was signed in 1855.

Reservations:  None. In 2009, the Duwamish tribe opened the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center on purchased land near their ancient settlement of Ha-AH-Poos (also written hah-AH-poos) in West Seattle, near the mouth of the Duwamish River. Some Duwamish live on the Suquamish Reservation.

Population at Contact: Approximately 37,200.

Registered Population Today: Although not recognized by the U.S. federal government, the Duwamish remain an organized tribe with approximately 569 enrolled members as of 2014. 

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

A detailed family genealogy documentation must be presented to be considered for enrollment in the Duwamish Tribe.

Genealogy Resources:


Individually, the Duwamish people continue to be recognized by the BIA as legal Native Americans, but not corporately as a tribe. In 1983, after more than 100 years of broken United States treaty promises, the Dkhw’Duw’Absh established Duwamish Tribal Services as a non-profit 501[C]3 organization to provide social and cultural services to the Duwamish Tribal community. (Contributions to Duwamish Tribal Services are tax-deductible.)

In 2004, Duwamish Tribal Services created Duwamish Management Corporation as a For Profit business owned by the Dkhw’Duw’Absh. Its purpose is to create businesses whose profits will fund activities and programs that strengthen the economic well-being of the Duwamish Tribe.

Charter: The Duwamish Tribe adopted a constitution, bylaws, and further structure in 1925.
Name of Governing Body:
Number of Council members:
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:


Language Classification: Salish => Coast Salish => Lushootseed (AKA Puget Salish, Skagit-Nisqually, dxʷləšúcid) => Southern  Lushootseed => Duwamish-Suquamish =>Duwamish

Language Dialects: Duwamish. Many of the sounds in the Duwamish language have no equivalent sound in English.

Number of fluent Speakers:



Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

The People of the Inside and the People of the Large Lake, like other Salish, were more a collection of villages linked by language and family ties than a nation or state. Relationships and stature among family and community were important measures or goals in life.

The People of the Inside, the People of the Large Lake, the People of the Small Lake, the People of Lake Sammamish and to a little lesser extent, the People of the Snoqualmie (which called themselves S·dukwalbixw /Sduqwalbixw) were all closely interrelated in a daisy chain following the geography. The “People of the clear salt water” or Suquamish (Suqwabš) were also related. Of these, the first two, today’s Duwamish, were a relatively dense population on prime real estate, and were the most immediately dispossessed at the time of European settlement.

Some Duwamish people today are enrolled in the federally recognized Tulalip Tribes of Washington.

Some Duwamish people merged with the Suquamish Tribe.

Traditional Allies:

Adjacent tribes throughout the Puget Sound-Strait of Georgia basin were, and are, interconnected and interrelated, yet distinct.

Traditional Enemies:

Northern Coast Salish and Wakashan from harder climates to the north often  raided the Coast Salish peoples.

Ceremonies / Dances:


Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:




There were numerous villages in what would become the Seattle metropolitan area as well as the nearby Snoqualmie River valley. Common to the Coast Salish, villages were transient. People dispersed into small groups in the spring, congregated for the salmon harvest in the summer, and wintered together in village longhouses.

Each village had one or more cedar plank longhouses (khwaac’ál’al or syúdəbàl?txʷ) containing extended families in a social structures that foreshadowed the cohousing of today. Tens of people lived in each one.

Villages were usually located facing a beach and body of water or river navigable by canoe, near a creek and drinking water source. Beyond the diffuse villages and grasslands, most land was heavily forested. Understory tended to be dense along the edges; travel by canoe was generally far more practical than by land.


Before civil engineering, the area had extensive tidelands, abundantly rich in seafoods. This and the summer salmon harvest were their staple foods. They also hunted deer, elk, ducks, and small animals, and gathered a variety of berries and roots. With no cows available, the new European-American immigrants lacked milk for their children.  The Duwamish  showed them how to substitute clam juice.

In spring, women harvested salmonberry shoots and bracken fern fiddleheads, while men hunted deer or elk. Camas from nearby prairies would be gathered or traded. The grasslands encouraged berries, fern roots, bulbs and other useful plants. Garry oaks, whose thick bark helps them survive fires, are typically associated with prairies, and their presence at Seward Park and Martha Washington Parks suggests that anthropogenic grasslands extended between them. They may have been planted for their edible acorns.

In summer and fall, thimbleberries, salal, raspberries, salmonberries, trailing blackberries, serviceberries, strawberries, huckleberries, and others were foraged. The berries were eaten fresh, or dried and formed into cakes to preserve them for winter. Mixed with dried fish and oil in recipes, pemmican made hearty late winter fare or compact, hardy provision for travel. Women and children would gather important wetland plants such as cattails for mats and wapato (“Indian potatoes”) for food. Crayfish and freshwater mussels were available in the lake.

Shellfish and tidal resources were available year round, limited only by red tide or similar infrequent closures. From midsummer through November, life revolved around the salmon, both as a food source and spiritual ceremonies. Salmon returned to virtually every stream with enough flow; among these streams was sqa’ts1d (“blocked mouth”), now called Genesee Creek, which formerly drained the Rainier Valley. The name of the creek suggests that a fishing weir in place blocked the mouth of the stream during part of the spawning season. Such weirs were made from the willows that occur abundantly along the lake shore. Fish were dried on racks to preserve them for the winter months.

During the long wet winter and early spring, the diet of dried fish and berries was supplemented by hunting ducks, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, otter, and bear.

Food resources varied, and resources were not always sufficient to last through to spring. The size of the salmon run has always varied tremendously from year to year. Nutritional diseases were not very distant. There is evidence that an extensive trade and potlatch network evolved to help distribute resources to areas in need that varied year to year, and was potent and effective until European diseases arriving in the 1770s and ravished the region for more than a century.

Economy Today:

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs:

Relationships and trade were often cemented with the world-wide practice of intermarriage. Villages were linked to others through intermarriage, which also carried status and trading privileges.

The wife usually went to live at the husband’s village.

While each extended family village might have their own customs, there were strong commonalities, particularly in language but also including philosophical beliefs, economic conditions, and ceremonial practices.

Social Organization:

Trading relationships and privileges were extensive between peoples of the entire Pacific Northwest (or “Cascadia”), including over the passes to what is now Eastern Washington.

The central and southern part of Puget Sound was the primary waterway connecting the greater Lushootseed (Skagit-Nisqually) Coast Salish Nations. Environmental resources were so abundant that the Skagit-Nisqually Salish had one of the world’s few sedentary hunter-gatherer societies. Life before the arrival of Europeans revolved around a social organization based on house groupings within a village, and reciprocal hospitality within and between villages.

Society was divided into upper class, lower class, and slaves, all largely hereditary.

Nobility was based on impeccable genealogy, intertribal kinship, wise use of resources, and possession of esoteric knowledge about the workings of spirits and the spirit world, making an effective marriage of class, secular, religious, and economic power.

Like some other Native American groups, the People of the Inside and the People of the Large Lake made their free-born look different: mothers carefully shaped the heads of their young babies, binding them with cradle boards just long enough to produce a steep sloping forehead.

Traditionally, there was no recognized permanent political leadership, which confused and frustrated people of European ancestry when they began to trade and settle in the area. There was little political organization that was understood by Europeans. The highest-ranking appropriate male would assume the role of ceremonial leader for some timely purpose, but rank could be variable and was determined by different standards.

Education and Media:

Tribal College:

Famous Duwamish / Suquamish

Catastrophic Events:

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Si’ahl witnessed epidemics of new diseases introduced by British and American traders, decimating Puget Sound’s Native population.  Experts estimate that 12,000 Puget Sound Salish – over 30% of the Native population – died from smallpox, measles, influenza and other diseases introduced by Europeans during the first 80 years of contact.

Among losses due to introduced diseases, a smallpox epidemic broke out among the Northwest tribes in 1862 and killed roughly half the affected native populations. Documentation in archives and historical epidemiology demonstrates that governmental policies furthered the progress of this epidemic among the natives, and did little or nothing about the waves of other introduced epidemics. Mean population decline 1774–1874 was about 66%.

Tribe History:

What is now Seattle has been inhabited since the end of the last glacial period (c. 8000 BCE—10,000 years ago). There were numerous villages in what would become the Seattle metropolitan area as well as the nearby Snoqualmie River valley.

From the 1800s the Maritime Fur Trade opened access to European goods for rival northern tribes from Vancouver Island and the Georgia Strait). Having guns prompted their more effective raiding south, deep into recently named Puget Sound, in turn prompting social and organizational change.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established Fort Langley (1827), then Fort Nisqually (1833) near present-day Dupont, within easy range and prompting keen interest in trade. As a young man, Si’ahl (later called Chief Seattle) made himself both well-known and notorious around Fort Nisqually.

Catholic missionaries began arriving in 1839, settlers in earnest from 1845.

The United States assumed regional sovereignty in 1846. White settlements at sbuh-KWAH-buks (Alki) and what is now Pioneer Square in Downtown Seattle were established in 1851 and 1852. The latter settlement was right upon and between prominent villages on Elliott Bay and villages on the Duwamish River estuary.


In the News:

Further Reading:


Unrecognized Tribes D-G
About nativelady

Leave a Reply