ICTMN Vincent Schilling
March 28, 2013
Nearly 36 years ago in 1977, the Duwamish Tribe, the people of Chief Seattle, petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition. Originally told their quest to be recognized would probably take only about five years, the Duwamish tribe fell victim to multiple changes in the BIA’s process ultimately ending in denial in 2001. However, the Duwamish now have a second chance at gaining federal recognition.
On Friday March 22, 2013, Seattle federal district court Judge John Coughenour ruled that the Bush Administration’s Bureau of Indian Affairs wrongly denied the Duwamish Tribe of Seattle’s petition for federal recognition in 2001. Citing the denial was “arbitrary and capricious” Judge Coughenour ordered the Bureau of Indian Affairs to re-evaluate the petition.
According to Chris Stearns, (Navajo) Chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and former Attorney for the Federal House Committee on Natural Resources who has followed the progress of the Duwamish, “After a decade-long battle in the courts to get the Bush Administration’s 2001 decision thrown out, Duwamish Tribal Chairwoman Cecile Hansen has won. She didn’t win federal recognition outright, but she now has a shot at least. The Obama Administration will now get a crack at deciding whether the Duwamish should be a federally recognized tribe in Seattle.”
Throughout the entire 36-year quest to be federally acknowledged, the Duwamish have faced several ups, downs and broken promises in the process.
In 1996, Clinton Administration’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Ada Deer, issued a preliminary ruling against the Duwamish. As the Administration was preparing to leave office in January of 2001, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Gover reversed a preliminary finding of Ada Deer against another Washington tribe, the Chinook. His Deputy, Michael Anderson took over for Gover and on January 19, 2001, the last day of the Clinton Administration, Anderson reversed Deer’s preliminary finding against the Duwamish and ordered them recognized.
Anderson personally called Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen to tell her the tribe was recognized. However, Anderson did not sign his approval statement and returned three days after the Bush Administration had taken over. While waiting in a car outside the Interior Department, Anderson retroactively signed the approval statement which was dated January 19, 2001.
Unfortunately for the Duwamish tribe the new Bush Administration put a hold on all new regulations and determinations that had not yet been published in the Federal Register. The Duwamish approval was held, never made it to the Federal Register, and thus never took effect.
On September 25, 2001, the Bush Administration’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Neal McCaleb, reversed the Anderson approval and formally issued a final decision refusing the Duwamish’s bid to be recognized.
Since 2003, Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott has introduced a bill every two years to restore recognition to the Duwamish which has never made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
According to Nedra Darling, Spokeswoman at the Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, when asked about their stance on the issue, she stated ‘It is the Department of the Interior’s policy not to discuss matters that are currently under litigation.”
In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Chairwoman Cecile Hansen shared her thoughts of a nearly 36-year battle in seeking recognition for her tribe.
How did the petition for recognition begin?
We were fighting for fishing rights and we naïvely believed that we were going to get recognized and get our fishing rights given back. That was the whole point of us getting into this process.