By Associated Press - Sunday, July 5, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - The federal government has again rejected a Seattle tribe’s petition for federal recognition as an Indian tribe.

The U.S. Department of Interior issued a final decision last week denying the Duwamish official recognition, which would have entitled them to federal benefits such as housing, fishing rights and the possibility of operating a casino.

In its July 2 decision, the agency said the petitioners didn’t show a continued existence of a distinct American Indian entity or that it has tribal political influence over its members as an autonomous entity from historical times until present, as required by 1978 and 1994 rules.

“It’s devastating,” tribal chairwoman Cecile Hansen told KUOW Radio. “Our tribe was the one that welcomed everyone.”

The Duwamish have been called Seattle’s first people and its leader, Chief Seattle, lent the city of Seattle his name, the Seattle Times reported (

“I’m certain there’s going to be an appeal,” Bart Freedman, attorney for the tribe at K&L Gates law firm, told the Times on Friday. He added: “There’s something really painful as a community about being the first people here and not being recognized.”

The tribe of about 600 members began its legal quest for federal status in 1977, and it revised its petition in 1989. The case has had many twists and turns over the decades.

In its decision, the federal agency noted that while many individual members descended from an Indian tribe at the time of the 1855 treaty, its ancestors dispersed throughout western Washington. “By the 1880s, the evidence does not show that their descendants maintained a distinct social community,” according to the decision. They did not evolve as a group from the historical tribe into the current group, which first formed in late 1925, the decision said.

An Interior official approved the Duwamish petition in 2001 during the end of the Clinton administration. The George W. Bush administration overturned the decision. It said the Duwamish had a temporary lapse in tribal government and didn’t always live as a cohesive community, which did not meet two of the criteria for federal status.

The tribe sued in federal court, and a federal judge in 2013 vacated the Bush administration’s denial of the tribe’s recognition. The judge ordered the Department of Interior to review the petition under new rules for federal recognition that the agency had adopted in 1994.

Thursday’s decision was the result of that review.


Information from: The Seattle Times,

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