Indigenous People's Day Interview with the Honorable Cecile Hansen

Community Engagement
Alina Santillan
photo by Alex Garland

On the second Monday of October 2014, Seattle became the third place in the United States to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day, a proposal that was originally made to the United Nations by the American Indian Movement in 1977. In the past four years, it has spread to over 70 places in the United States and has locally become a day to celebrate global Indigenous cultures.

We'll be celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day on KEXP by highlighting Indigenous musicians throughout The Afternoon Show with guest host Gabriel Teodros and on El Sonido with DJ Miss Ashley, in addition to special interviews like this one with Cecile Hansen, the current tribal chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe, elected in 1975. 

KEXP: How can people support the Duwamish? 

Cecile Hansen: People can support Duwamish tribe if they would realize that Duwamish are the Indigenous people of Seattle, and we are a tribe, and they should support the Duwamish Tribe of Seattle. 

How do you think people could do that in an authentic way? 

We have a program called Real Rent [ed. note: Real Rent is a grassroots movement calling on Seattleites to pay 'rent' to the Duwamish Tribe to acknowledge their stewardship of the land on which we live and work]. And we built a longhouse in 2009, opened in 2010, and this cultural center is to inform and educate all peoples of Seattle about the Duwamish Tribe that with that were here when we signed the treaty with the federal government. 

And that was the Point Eliott treaty?

Yes, the Point Elliott treaty in 1855. The sad part about it is, 163 years later, I find that people do not understand that there is a tribe here. If you sign a treaty, it must be still valid. And I don't understand why they can't support the Duwamish Tribe. I've tried in the last 40 years to meet with every mayor in Seattle, and shame on them. The only thing I want from the city is to pass a resolution to support their own people because the city is named after our chief. They honored him but they are not honoring their people today by not being supportive. 

Yes, and that I think is a good point that you bring up to you that the Duwamish are not people who were here a long time ago. They are still here and deserve recognition and support. So that's the work that you're doing.

Well, I've been advocating. The first experience I had was advocating for fishing rights. We don't have the right to fish in the Duwamish River which is pathetic. So, then in the next breath, we decided to petition the United States and their rules to be recognized by them. And that took many, many years, a lot of money, a lot of historians, and a lot of attorneys. One moment we were recognized was in 2001 by the Clinton administration. When the Bush administration came in, they put a hold on it and they took our acknowledgement away. This is pathetic. This is pathetic on behalf of the United States to do this. And we're not the only one here in the United States that fights for an acknowledgement from the federal government.

There have been a lot of Native American and Indigenous women who have gone missing or have been murdered. And I want to know how we continue to talk about this and that violent epidemic against Native and Indigenous women. In your opinion and in your wisdom, especially for non-native folks who are also concerned that this is happening, how do you think that those communities can put an end to that?

Don't stop talking about it. Rise to the occasion. Don't ever forget that these people are being violated and killed. And we have to not let it go.

It seems that has been happening for a long time and that our country has a history of that. The disappearance of Native and Indigenous women is not something new. And we need to keep talking about that to really create change.

How we can use music and art as a form of social justice?

Well, I've always loved music — I mean, I'm not into rock n roll. I'm from the older generation. But music is wonderful. We need that for all people and as Native people, we care about music. 

Why do you think music is important? 

Because it's a message. If you hear the music and it's coming from some venue or some people, it's sharing. They're sharing their wisdom and is sharing their language because language comes out of the drumming if you listen very carefully. It could be a hit on it like you're going to war. You can be violent with the drum or you can drum very softly to wake up somebody. It's a quite interesting instrument or a tool, and it's really wonderful at gatherings when they can sing a song and drum. 

Is there anything else that you want to talk about that would help our audience and our listeners connect to the people? 

If the public doesn't know, we did sign the treaty and gave up 54000 acres, which is Seattle. The settlers named this city after our chief.

I think that we need the support of our Duwamish Tribe. And because of the lack of acknowledgment, we don't get the big money. We could use federal monies to help us and our projects. It's very sad that we have this wonderful cultural center but we're not able to offer programs for children or for anybody. And one thing that we lost is the foster care program and I would like that to come back. The funding was lost from the state level and I'm trying to advocate to bring that back. 

And people can support the Duwamish and help bring those things back through things like Real Rent. 

Yes, Real Rent is wonderful. I'm so happy that we have Real Rent because there are people from all over whose support paid for their rent to the Duwamish Tribe. It's unreal. I think the creator helped these people to bring it back or to help us. 

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