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.
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