In Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place, Second Edition (published Spring 2017 in the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series), Coll Thrush brings the Indigenous story to the present day and puts the movement of recognizing Seattle’s Native past into a broader context.
Native Seattle and several other UW Press titles (including Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia edited by Robert T. Boyd, Kenneth M. Ames, and Tony A. Johnson, and the forthcoming Chinook Resilience by Jon D. Daehnke) helped form the framework for the documentary “Promised Land,” about the Duwamish Tribe and Chinook Nation fight for federal recognition. “Promised Land” filmmaker Sarah Samudre Salcedo says:
“The book not only informed our film’s research for the Duwamish, but so well described the tribe’s modern day struggle for recognition that it inspired our focus to the broader federal policies that eventually drew our attention to the Chinook story, and stories like it across the nation. Those histories and struggles are so well-documented in these books and our film wouldn’t have made sense without them and the appearance of the authors within the documentary.”
We are thrilled that Seattle Theatre Group (STG) is hosting a free screening of “Promised Land” at the Neptune Theatre on July 6 and bringing the Duwamish Tribe and Chinook Nation’s struggle to the people of Seattle. Both tribes will be on hand before and after the show at tables in the lobby, and at a post-film panel discussion, to talk to the community. University Book Store will also have a table at the event to sell our books. Doors open at 7 p.m., the Duwamish and Chinook start drumming at 7:30 p.m., and the film starts at 8 p.m. We hope you can join us!
In celebration of the screening event later this week, we feature the following excerpt from the new preface to the second edition of Native Seattle:
Red Eagle Soaring, a dance and theatre ensemble made up of Indigenous youth of many backgrounds, took stages across the city. Artists such as Seminole-Choctaw filmmaker Tracy Rector, whose “You Are On Indigenous Land” photography installation, made up of intimate portraits of members of her community taken by her and her colleagues, received praise from the local press. And in 2015, Blackfeet legal advocate and jurist Debora Juarez successfully campaigned for the city council, representing the city’s northernmost district. A far cry from the place of Indigenous people in the city’s consciousness in earlier eras—symbols of a vanishing race or threats to urban order—Indigenous women and men have become important players in the city’s cultural and political landscape.Beyond the federally recognized tribes, Seattle’s urban Indigenous community has also become increasingly visible in the decade since Native Seattle was first published. Performers like
Indigenous institutions are also on the rise. Daybreak Star cultural center, located in Discovery Park and founded by the activists who took over Fort Lawton in 1970, remains a crucial resource for many people in Seattle’s Indigenous community, including hosting the annual Seafair Days powwow. At the University of Washington, meanwhile, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (Intellectual House) opened in 2015, after years of organizing by activists both within and outside the UW community. It serves as a center for Indigenous concerns on campus and is already a much sought-after venue for academic and other events. But wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ’s place-story goes deeper than that. According to Tseshaht Nuu-chah-nulth professor Charlotte Coté, “when you walk into Intellectual House, you really do feel the spirits of their ancestors. This is not just a building.” Designed by Cherokee-Choctaw architect Johnpaul Jones in a style reminiscent of the longhouses that once graced the nearby Duwamish community of Little Canoe Channel, wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ was described by organizing committee member Denny Hurtado of the Skokomish Tribe as “a home where we can share our culture with the non-natives, and build bridges amongst us.” And down at the Pike Place Market, Nooksack artist and entrepreneur Louie Gong has opened the famed market’s first Indigenous-owned business, Eighth Generation. Together, all of these new additions to Seattle’s Indigenous landscape speak to the ongoing work of the city’s Indigenous community to be seen, to create, and to flourish.
Seattle’s Indian-inflected self-image has also continued to grow and change. In 2008, for example, the city unveiled a new trail circling Lake Union that was named after Cheshiahud, the Duwamish man who had once lived on the lake’s shoreline. Nearby, at the Museum of History and Industry’s new location, the 1950s diorama of the Denny Party no longer serves as the starting point of the city’s history; instead, a gallery curated under the guidance of local tribal members reminds visitors that they, as was Denny, are on Indigenous land. In 2014, meanwhile, the city council ruled unanimously to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day, making Seattle one of the first cities to reorient itself in relation to a long-honored and much-excoriated commemoration of colonialism’s ultimate bête noir. That same year, the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, and even that victory was framed in part through Indigenous imagery: the Burke Museum displayed a Kwakwaka’wakw eagle transformation mask thought to the be the inspiration for the football team’s logo, while during the team’s victory parade, running back Marshawn Lynch received a drum from Lummi tribal member John Scott. Lynch’s beating of the drum received worldwide attention and once again highlighted Indigenous presence in the city. Finally, in the years to come, the city’s much-debated redevelopment of the waterfront will feature the work of Puyallup artist Qwalsius (Shaun Peterson), whose Coast Salish–style works will push back against the North Coast imagery so associated with Seattle’s public image.
In the midst of all this, with the deepest place-story of all, the Duwamish remain. Despite being denied federal recognition yet again in 2015—a decision the Department of the Interior described as “final”—the tribe’s members continue to fight for legal and cultural recognition. In the wake of the 2015 ruling, more than fifty Duwamish people and allies protested at the West Seattle home of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and in one newspaper account of the decision, tribal chairwoman Cecile Hansen stated firmly, “we’re not invisible.” This is true. As they had during the 2001 sesquicentennial of the Denny Party’s landing at Alki Beach, the Duwamish continue to make their presence known in very public ways while attending to their own cultural revival. Former tribal councilmember James Rasmussen, for example, is one of the leaders of the Duwamish Cleanup Coalition, whose goal is to continue the work of remediating the Superfund site that is Seattle’s only river, while the tribe’s dance group T’ilibshudub (Dancing Feet) often performs around the city and elsewhere. Most notably, the Duwamish opened their long-planned longhouse and cultural center in 2009, just across West Marginal Way from the site of their ancient town of Crying Face. The tribe has also been involved in documenting its own history, perhaps most importantly through the work of University of Victoria graduate student and Duwamish descendant Julia Allain who collected stories of many of the tribe’s leading families. These activities and others show that federal recognition, as a colonial legal framework, does not necessarily determine Indigeneity: as Indigenous people around the world have asserted, they can exist regardless of someone else’s rules.
None of the events described above have happened without significant Indigenous activism, as has been always been the case throughout Seattle’s history, in which Native people have had to struggle to claim a place in the city and to combat the stereotypical images of the doomed, vanished Indian. In doing, so, they have exhibited what Ojibwe journalist and scholar Gerald Vizenor has called “survivance.” Survivance, a neologism that connotes both survival and resistance, speaks to something beyond simple persistence:
Theories of survivance are elusive, obscure, and imprecise by definition . . . but survivance is invariably true in native practice and company. The nature of survivance is unmistakable in native stories . . . and is clearly visible in narrative resistance and personal attributes, such as the native humanistic tease, vital irony, spirit, cast of mind, and moral courage.
The character of survivance creates a sense of native presence over absence, nihility, and victimry. Survivance is a continuation of stories, not a mere reaction . . . survivance is greater than the right of a survivable name.
Nothing captures this notion of survivance more than the 2015 protests against oil giant Shell, whose enormous drilling rig was anchored for a time in Elliott Bay. Hundreds of “kayaktivists” took to the water to speak out against drilling and block aquatic access to the rig, but this was more than the usual Seattle environmentalist action. There, among the brightly colored plastic watercraft, were tribal canoes, leading the charge in defense of the earth. Such is survivance; such is the truth that Seattle’s Indigenous history is far from over.