At Solid Ground, we know that to solve poverty, we must recognize the systemic oppression and institutional barriers that rob people of their agency and keep them from thriving. For some people, that oppression spans decades or centuries – its harm compounded with each new generation. Our work at Solid Ground starts with acknowledging that harm.
That’s why we’re proud to stand with the Duwamish – the first people of Seattle – in their decades-long fight for federal recognition. This is justice long overdue and would be a fulfillment of promises made to the Duwamish people 167 years ago, when Chief Seattle was forced to sign a treaty giving our federal government 54,000 acres of ancestral Duwamish land. It would be an acknowledgement that the Duwamish are still here, in the city that bears their chief’s name, and have not ceased to exist.
Our government’s broken promises have left a devastating legacy.
But this is not just about righting a historic wrong – it’s about empowering the tribe to care for a people who have been devalued, displaced, persecuted, and marginalized again and again over the last 17 decades. When Chief Seattle signed that treaty, he was promised that the U.S. government would give the tribe a place to live in peace and provide for the health, education, and welfare of his people. None of that ever happened.
The injustice of this legacy is clear.
Today, Indigenous children in the Seattle area are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than white children, and nearly four times more likely to live in poverty.¹ One in five Indigenous adults in the Seattle area do not have a high school diploma, compared to one in 30 white adults. And across Washington state, Indigenous people have the shortest life expectancy and highest rates of infant mortality, asthma, and colorectal cancer among all racial groups.²
As Seattle has flourished as a city, its first people have suffered. All of us who live on this land – who cherish its beauty and bounty – have benefited from their displacement 167 years ago. We owe it to the Duwamish to do better by them.
Federal recognition means providing the tribe with the resources its people need.
The Duwamish Tribe already provides a range of social services for its 600 members, but recognition would open the door to a host of federal resources and rights that would allow it to do so much more.
“The government, when we signed that treaty, was supposed to take care of the health, welfare, and education of the Duwamish. Those are the reasons we are looking to be recognized. That’s it: the health, welfare, and education of our people. That’s what we will see change.” ~James Rasmussen, tribal council member
That starts with health. In the U.S., all Native American and Alaskan Natives are eligible for health care from the Indian Health Service – but only if they’re a member of a federally recognized tribe. In Seattle, 19% of Indigenous people don’t have health insurance, compared to less than 5% of white people, according to the last point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County.³
Federal recognition could also play a role in turning back the flood of homelessness in our region. Indigenous people make up only about 1% of the populations in the county, but about 15% of those experiencing homelessness. Federal recognition would give the tribes access to resources for education, job training, housing, social services, and more for members of the Duwamish Tribe – all tools for ending generational cycles of poverty and homelessness.
“The government, when we signed that treaty, was supposed to take care of the health, welfare, and education of the Duwamish,” says James Rasmussen, a tribal council member. “Those are the reasons we are looking to be recognized. That’s it: the health, welfare, and education of our people. That’s what we will see change.”
Solid Ground believes the work of ending poverty is about dismantling barriers. The denial of federal recognition for the Duwamish Tribe is an unjust barrier that has stood too long.
You can join with Solid Ground and many others in our community! Sign Change.org’s petition calling for federal recognition for the Duwamish Tribe, and by donate to Real Rent Seattle.
- Urban Indian Health Institute: Community Health Profile – National Aggregate of Urban Indian Organization Service Areas
- American Indian Health Commission for Washington State: Disparities and Challenges Facing American Indians and Alaska Natives: How Clinicians Can Help Reduce Inequities
- All Home: Seattle/King County Point-in-Time Count of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness – 2020