Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe, has been fighting for tribal recognition since the 80s and has no intention of giving up yet. However, the tribe's pro bono lawyers may be.
"The lawyers who were supposed to represent us on our appeal think they can dump us," Hansen says. Without legal representation, Hansen fears the tribe's long-standing tribal recognition case could die.
The case is an appeal to a decision by the administration of George W. Bush to repeal the tribe's federally recognized status, which was granted in the waning days of Clinton's presidency. Hansen says she and the tribe's council have been left mostly in the dark with regards to the progress of their case. "As chair, I should be able to know what's going on with the tribe," she says.
She recently received a letter from the lawyers stating their intention to end representation of the tribe by the end of April, and Hansen has been scrambling to find someone to replace them.
Crowell Law Office -- whose attorneys Scott Crowell and Scott Wheat have been representing the Duwamish Nation free of charge -- refused to speak about the case or its representation of the tribe.
The Duwamish have been trapped in legal battles practically since Chief Sealth, who, representing the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes and other area tribal leaders, signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. Sealth, the namesake of Seattle, was the son of a Duwamish woman, and Hansen is his great-great-grandniece.
Almost immediately, the treaty with the Duwamish was broken. The Duwamish never received a reservation, and some members joined other tribes that had reservations.
In 1979, a federal court ruled the tribe could not prove tribal leadership existed between 1915 and 1925, and therefore could not have treaty fishing rights. The Bureau of Indian Affairs used this same reason to deny the Duwamish status in 1996. The tribe gathered evidence proving continuing leadership, prompting the last-minute Clinton administration decision to grant tribal status. The Duwamish tribe were a federally recognized tribe for fewer than 48 hours in January of 2001.
When the Duwamish heard their status was revoked, "We were blown away," said Hansen.
Aside from the pending legal case, the Duwamish also have a chance to gain recognition through a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott, H.R. 2678, held up in committee since July 15, 2009.
Even still Hansen presses on, making fry-bread to raise money for the tribe and searching for someone new to take their case. "That's all I'm thinking, 24/7: this tribe."