Perhaps no Seattle place reflects the effects brought about by the “The Changers,” as the Duwamish people called the white settlers, as the Duwamish River itself.
When the Denny party stepped ashore at Alki in 1851, there were some 17 villages and longhouses facing local waterways. The 1880 census numbered 42 Indian dwellings on the banks of the Duwamish; seven years later a map shows a village on the river’s west bank. A 1910 map update shows the same village but it, too, disappeared.
The Duwamish tribe had been mostly dispersed, and it is that dispersion — reflected in a break in tribal records — the U. S. government has cited in its refusal to grant the tribe full federal recognition.
The legal struggle goes on.
The serpentine Duwamish was dredged and straightened starting in 1913. In 1916 the opening of the Hiram M. Chittendon Locks dropped Lake Washington 9 feet and emptied the Black River, the tribe’s hallowed fishing ground connecting the waters of the Duwamish with Lake Washington. On that day, the last of the Black River salmon flopped in the mud.
The lower Duwamish River was declared a Federal Superfund site in 2001.
The remaining curve in the Duwamish lies off Kellogg Island — “Backwater” (squabqabap) the Indians called it — not far from the Duwamish Longhouse and Culture Center, 4705 W. Marginal Way, which opened in 2009.
Native American footprints are present all around the city, though not all are known to the descendents of “The Changers,” for fear of defilement.
Chief Seattle is an Anglicization of his real name, the Lushootseed pronunciation of which is Chief Si’ahl — a sound that eluded the tongues of the first settlers and their descendants and remains a ghostly presence, like the provenance of his famous speech to the white man in 1854.
Native American artifacts have been found all over city. The treasure trove uncovered at the West Point Treatment Plant in Magnolia in the early 1990s yielded items going back 4000 years. Those artifacts reside at the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus.
Other Native American footprints are embedded in the place names that still ring true. Beacon Hill was known as “Greenish Yellow Spine” (qWáSéécH), which referred to the maples, alders and other deciduous trees that still grow there. Licton Springs derives its name from the red pigments Native peoples gathered for ceremonial use. The point reaching out from Wallingford that forms Gasworks Park was known as “Extended from the Ridge,” likened to a prop holding up a house. Other sites are utterly changed: Where King Street Station now stands a promontory and small tidal marsh were known as “Little Crossing Over Place.” Others place the site at the foot of Yesler Way. Either way, the area is now Pioneer Square, abutted by two sports stadiums.
There are numerous places around the city to get closer the Native American past and present.
• Chief Seattle Statue, at Tillikum Place, where Fifth Avenue meets Denny Way and Cedar Street in the Denny Regrade.
• The totem pole in Pioneer Square is a 1938 replica of the original lifted from a Tlingit village in Alaska in 1899. An arsonist destroyed the original.
• Seattle University Vi Hilbert Ethnobotanical Garden, at James Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue. A fitting tribute to honor Upper Skagit elder Hilbert (1918-2008), who worked tirelessly to preserve and promote the Lushootseed language, the language of the Puget Sound Salish people. The garden features native plants which provided traditional foods, medicines and materials for living. www.seattleu.edu/artsci/ethnobotanical<http://www.seattleu.edu/artsci/ethnobotanical>
• Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, Discovery Park, 3801 W. Government Way in Magnolia, is a legacy of the late Bernie Whitebear, who founded the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. The beautiful building features an art gallery and acts as a center for gatherings and celebrations and social service programs. www.unitedindians.com.
• Alki Beach: On Alki Avenue Southwest a monument marks the spot where the Denny party landed in 1851 — Seattle’s Plymouth Rock. A decade ago a plaque was added addressing the role Native Americans played in giving the newcomers a helping hand. Next door is the Log House Museum, which does a good job telling both sides of the story. www.loghousemuseum.info
• Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, 4705 W. Marginal Way SW. Terminal 107 Park and Herring House Park across the street give access to the Duwamish River. Uphill at Belvedere Viewpoint, 3600 Admiral Way SW, Michael Haladay’s story pole — he is descended from Chief Seattle — honors the people of the Duwamish. www.duwamishtribe.org<http://www.duwamishtribe.org>The tribe itself is still fighting for recognition from the federal government.
• Chief Seattle is buried in St. Peter’s churchyard in Suquamish across the water in North Kitsap County. It’s a quiet green spot with a marker surmounted by two dugout canoes facing east. To the southeast rise the steel and glass towers of the city that bears his name.
• For more information on local Indian place names, see “Native Seattle” by Coll Thrush.