They arrived at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center in late 2008: close to 20 cultural artifacts, including a stone bowl, a glass bead necklace and a basket belonging to Princess Angeline, daughter of Chief Seattle. All of the items were on loan from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, but eight of them were legally owned by the Port of Seattle.
When Port officials decided to catalogue its archeological collection, they asked officials at the Burke, which holds the Port’s entire collection in trust, to retrieve the eight items loaned to the longhouse. In July 2013, the Burke took back the artifacts: an adze blade, an antler tool, an awl, a bone harpoon point and four other points, including some that resemble arrowheads.
Now that the artifacts have been removed, a display case in the Duwamish tribal longhouse and cultural center is nearly empty.
Leaders of the Duwamish tribe, which is not recognized by the federal government, say the loss of the artifacts has been hard to take.
What’s more difficult, tribal leaders say, is another decision that affects the destiny of items made by their ancestors: The eight artifacts won’t be returned to the Duwamish. Instead, the items, along with roughly 13,000 other artifacts in the Port’s collection — will be permanently held by the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes.
Cecile Hansen, Duwamish Tribal chair, said that worries her, “because once they leave the Burke Museum, we’ll never see them again.”
There is no set date for when the artifacts will go to the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes.
In the meantime, Hansen said the Duwamish are on a mission: They want to get the artifacts back, even if they have to buy them.
The eight reclaimed artifacts are part of a cache of approximately 12,000 items excavated during the 1970s and 1980s from Duwamish
No. 1 Site, along the Duwamish Waterway. The site is across the street from the longhouse and cultural center, which is on West Marginal Way, near an ancient Duwamish village on the shores of the Duwamish Waterway.
A 1981 archeological report published by the University of Washington states the site was a village and shell midden, or mound, and had been in use intermittently or continuously from between 670 to 1700.
The Port of Seattle owns the site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Port spokesperson Jason Kelly said as the owner of the artifacts, the Port felt indigenous people should hold the items.
“The Port strongly believes the artifacts should rest in tribal hands,” said Kelly.
But the foremost legal issue for the Port wasn’t which tribe would hold the artifacts, but what type of facility would store them.
“The facility that houses them must meet federal requirements,” Kelly said.
Washington state requires that places that house artifacts from public lands must follow guidelines established by the Department of Interior that define minimum capabilities for “long-term curatorial services, including policies and procedures, facilities requirements, and staffing and experience.”
The state’s Department of Archeology & Historic Preservations website says that since most agencies do not meet those minimum capabilities, they “must choose to place collections in facilities that meet the federal standards.”
A March 6 letter from Port CEO Tay Yoshitani, sent to Hansen, states that both the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes recently completed storage facilities that meet federal standards.
“The Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes jointly requested talks with the port to transfer permanent custody of the cultural materials stored at the Burke Museum to them,” the letter states.
Kelly said artifacts from the Port’s collection that had been excavated from the Duwamish Waterway, which Port officials say are stored in more than 180 boxes, would be held by the Muckleshoot Tribe.
Items excavated from a site along Elliott Bay, known as the World Trade Center, which Burke officials say amounts to roughly 1,000 artifacts, will be housed with the Suquamish Tribe. Representatives from the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes did not return calls for comment.
To Hansen, who’s been the Duwamish tribal chair for 39 years, the placement of the artifacts shouldn’t hinge on what type of storage facility a tribe maintains or can afford.
“I don’t care a damn thing about that,” she said.
At what cost?
Hansen said that the artifacts found along the Duwamish Waterway were made by her ancestors, so they should belong to her people. Returning them to the Duwamish would show indigenous people the respect they deserve, she said.
Part of the tribe’s effort to regain the artifacts is an attempt to buy them.
In a Feb. 27 press release titled, “Port of Seattle Shanghais Duwamish Cultural Artifacts,” Hansen wrote that the Port pushed the Burke to confiscate “$800 worth of Duwamish cultural artifacts.”
Hansen said she has tried to raise $800 to purchase the artifacts, but the effort, so far, has been unsuccessful.
Kelly, of the Port, said the items don’t have a price.
“The artifacts are not for sale,” he said.
Steve Denton, archeology program manager at the Burke Museum, agreed.
The items, he said, do not have an $800 price tag.
“Could you replace the objects for that sum? Probably not, because they are unique,” Denton said.
Denton said the Burke does not price artifacts, but when items are loaned to institutions, they are ascribed an insurance value.
Officials with the Duwamish longhouse sent Real Change an outgoing loan agreement from the Burke that accompanied the items loaned to the longhouse in December 2008. It ascribes an insurance value of $845 to the eight Port-owned items.
Denton said because the Port owns the eight items, it can decide where they ultimately go.
“For this particular collection, we weren’t able to influence the Port on what they [might] do with this collection,” said Denton. “It’s entirely up to them.”
Hansen said that placing the artifacts with another tribe stings because numerous tribes in the U.S. have something the Duwamish do not: federal recognition.
The Duwamish, whose name is Lushootseed for “People on the Inside,” have tried to obtain federal recognition for decades. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has ruled the tribe has gone extinct.
“But we’re still here,” said Hansen.
In 2001, right before the end of his second term, President Bill Clinton granted the Duwamish federal status.
The recognition didn’t last long. Days later, not long after President George W. Bush took office, he rescinded the tribe’s federal status.
Last spring, months before the eight artifacts were removed from the longhouse, a U.S. federal judge ruled the Department of the Interior (DOI) must reexamine the ruling that denied the Duwamish federal recognition. The DOI has yet to issue a finding.
Hansen said she sees the removal and relocation of the artifacts as one more shortchange the Duwamish, with almost 600 members, have had to endure.
The museum notified the longhouse and cultural center in July that the eight artifacts belonging to the Port would be reclaimed “in preparation for transfer to a different repository.”
Most of the artifacts the Burke originally loaned in 2008 — 10 other items, including a horn spoon, a stone bowl shaped like a seal and Princess Angeline’s basket — were not reclaimed from the longhouse.
“We have also offered to [Hansen] other objects from our archeology collection, not from the Duwamish collections,” Denton said.
The Port’s Kelly said that the Port was pleased that it could loan the artifacts to the Duwamish, which could be an option the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes pursue.
“It may be a path forward in the future as well,” Kelly said.
Hansen said her tribe doesn’t want the artifacts on loan — they believe they own them and are seeking pro bono legal counsel to help get the artifacts back.
“They belong to the tribe,” she said.