The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

When you attend just about any event of significance in the Seattle area, the moderator will often start off by saying, “We would like to acknowledge that we are on the unceded ancestral lands of the Duwamish people.”

According to the Duwamish Tribe website, doing so is a sign of respect and a way of honoring the indigenous people. In that light, I appreciate that that acknowledgement is so often proffered here (I never heard anything similar in the 40 years I lived in Florida), but it also makes me squirm, because I can imagine a whole unspoken paragraph that ought to go with it. To wit:

“Here we all are, enjoying this event that is taking place on land that we stole from the Duwamish people. Not that we have any intentions of returning it to them. Not that they have been allowed to benefit from the profits that we have made since we stole the land. Not that we are giving them any of the proceeds that we earn from this event. In fact, the Duwamish people do not even constitute a federally recognized tribe, so they don’t get any federal support whatsoever, despite the fact that they’ve been here for thousands of years, because that would cost us money, and for heaven’s sake, we can’t have that, now, can we?”

It’s just not right. Federally recognized tribes, in theory, receive benefits similar to what states and local governments do, according to this page from the Department of the Interior. For example, they get assistance with education, social services, law enforcement, courts, real estate services, agriculture and range management, and resource protection. They are also provided with health services in the form of hospitals and clinics, and have access to established programs that specialize in maternal and child health, mental health, substance abuse, home health care, and nutrition. Recognized tribes are also provided with disaster assistance and COVID vaccines. There are currently 574 recognized tribes in the US, 231 of which are located in Alaska.

But there are also at least 360 tribes with no recognition whatsoever, according to this Wikipedia page. And that doesn’t even count the tribes that are recognized by states but not the federal government, or tribes that were previously recognized by the federal government but then terminated. Termination can be caused by having no more known living tribe members (which is understandable), but it was also caused by a federal policy that was in place from the mid-1940’s to the mid 1960’s, in a nefarious effort to stop supporting these tribes financially.

Lack of recognition causes a whole host of problems, such as having to travel to the nearest recognized tribe to get your COVID shots instead of having them available in your community, or not having any FEMA assistance after a hurricane that wipes out your entire community, which is what happened to the Houma Tribe in Louisiana during Hurricane Ida. (Please join me in helping them here.)

We are a greedy and selfish nation, so we make it extremely hard for tribes to get recognition. If it happens at all, it can take decades, and it comes at a great legal expense. And how does one provide proof of one’s existence when most tribes had no written history before the advent of the European invasion?

The fact is, we know what we did to these people. We need to not only acknowledge it, but also do something about it. We broke international law when we just moved on in and slaughtered them with impunity and took everything and then left the survivors destitute and dying. America is one of the worst perpetrators of genocide in the world. A mature nation would take responsibility for its actions. It’s time we did so.

This doesn’t even come close to being a comprehensive list.

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4 thoughts on “Tribes without Federal Recognition

  1. Lyn says:

    My grandmother’s tribe, Wyandot of Anderdon Nation, is on the list of unrecognized tribes. She was only a quarter and had that part of her suppressed by the Catholic church. If you were partially indigenous you had to hide it. Some tribes that are not recognized might be because they were conquered at one time and mostly absorbed into another tribe. Also, there were tribes whose territories overlapped the U.S. borders making it easy for governments to deny them recognition as their responsibility. This country looks good on paper and does an excellent job of branding itself as a beacon of hope to the outside world, but for so many here, the truth makes the words, ‘with liberty and justice for all’ stick in our throats. We can’t begin to live up to our reputation until we admit who we’ve been, or still are. All our current social justice movements are exposing those truths so we can finally put our words into action and heal the horrific generational wounds we inflict. Time to grow up America.

    1. Well said, as always, Lyn. And don’t forget that if that was your grandmother;s tribe, then it’s your tribe, too. You have a community out there. I’d love to have roots like that. All my ancestors were so nomadic it leaves me feeling essentially rootless. But it’s my dream to visit all the home towns of all my grandparents some day.

  2. Lyn says:

    I’m such a mix that I don’t fit easily into a single group. Sadly, saying hey, I’m one 1/16th this or 1/4 or 1/8th that doesn’t easily open the doors to acceptance into a particular cultural community. Maybe if I looked Caucasian I’d automatically be a member of your European tribe, but I’d have to jump through too many humiliating hoops to achieve that. I’d have to deny my other parts and apologize for looking less than white. Roots run deeper than blood or genetics. To look at me you’d never guess one parent was 3/4 white yet my mother’s people still never fully accepted my white cultural heritage. So I’ll never be fully accepted into any of my tribes. That doesn’t mean I deny any of my ethnicities. I embrace them all equally, even if they don’t embrace me back. I’m probably more rootless than you after all. Right now, it’s a very complex issue being mixed, but one day it will probably be the accepted norm and we’ll be content members of the Human tribe.

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