Native Americans | KUOW News and Information

Native Americans

Courtesy of Lloyd Montgomery

As we begin another new year in these United States of America, it’s an opportune time to listen in to the creative voices of descendants of the original inhabitants of these lands.

The Seattle skyline, seen across the water.
Flickr Photo/Shelly Provost (CC BY 2.0)/flic.kr/p/VEhbc2

Essayist Elissa Washuta spent last summer in the Fremont Bridge. The old control room was turned into an office, which allowed her to sit over the water and write. Elissa is descended from the Cowlitz and Cascade people. The longer she looked at the shipping canal, the less she could separate it from the displacement of the Duwamish people in service of progress and growth.

Seattle is in a new wave of growth, with similar implications for those who were here before, including the Coast Salish peoples. On a visit back to Seattle from Columbus, Ohio, Elissa joined Bill Radke for a conversation on the flow of water – and people – in and out of this city.

Activist group Backbone Campaign hung this banner in September 2015. Chief Seattle is often quoted by environmental groups.
Flickr Photo/Backbone Campaign (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/yJnSzW

“The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.”

These words are from an 1854 speech that made Chief Seattle famous, inspiring environmental movements in the city that bears his name and beyond.

Except, he never really said that.


The life expectancy of Native Americans in some states is 20 years shorter than the national average.

There are many reasons why.

Julia Yesler, pictured, is the offspring of a Duwamish woman and white settler Henry Yesler.
Courtesy of Kathie Zetterberg

Chief Seattle was the leader of the Duwamish tribe in the days when white settlers were entering the region that would eventually bear his name.

The chief had an unusual way of brokering peace: encouraging his family members to marry the settlers.


Members of the 'Emma canoe' arrive on the shore of the Tsawwassen Indian Reserve after the first leg of their multi-day canoe journey on Thursday, July 27, 2017, in Tsawwassen, British Columbia.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Some are claiming voter fraud in a controversial tribal council election in northwest Washington.

Nooksack tribal membership, tens of millions of federal dollars and a casino are on the line.

A group of eastern Washington tribes is joining a nationwide movement to reclaim indigenous identities and re-tell native stories. In this case, it’s all about a name change.

"Do Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?"

I am asked this question at least once every fall. Which, by the way, is too many times.

The answer is that my family (though I can't speak for the other 5 million Indigenous people in America) doesn't. Not the "brave-pilgrims-and-friendly-savages" version of the holiday, anyway. Twenty or 30 of us might gather under the same roof to share a meal. We'll thank the creator for our blessings.

But that could be true of any Thursday night in a Wampanoag house.

Turning to face the water behind her, Roxanne White recalled her ancestors’ memories of the Columbia River.

“At one point, if you can imagine, they would say you could walk off the backs of the salmon across the river,” said White, a Yakama Nation descendant. “Now they’re so minimal, and they’re sick. Just like our mother earth; just like our water.” 

The rare but ever-present risk of a tsunami has worried people along the Pacific Northwest coast for years. Different communities are working on moving critical facilities to higher ground.

Jill Davenport

Nearly half the anchor lines on an Atlantic salmon farm snapped one evening in July, a month before an even worse accident caused the aging pens to collapse completely.


The list of racist place names in Washington is long, but the state is slowly getting rid of them.

The latest is a “Squaw Creek” southwest of the town of Methow in Eastern Washington.

The White House is blocking money to build new tribal housing along the Columbia River. That’s according to five members of the Washington and Oregon congressional delegations.

KUOW / John Ryan

Protesters at Gov. Jay Inslee’s town hall on climate change at the University of Washington in Seattle said the governor’s actions don’t live up to his stirring words.

In the 1940s, construction of the Grand Coulee Dam ended a generations-long tradition among the region’s Native American tribes who had gathered at a nearby waterfall every year. But last year, five tribes revived that tradition.

Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club.
KUOW Photo/Katherine Banwell


Many Native people who are homeless in Seattle say they feel invisible.

“We are a city that’s named after a great chief of Suquamish-Duwamish descent, and we don’t always know and feel that in this city,” said Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club. “I think that we have an issue where we don’t really want to engage in it.”

Nikk Dakota of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe walks into the Indigenous Peoples' Day Celebration at Daybreak Star Cultural Center on Monday, October 9, 2017, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day on Monday with a march from Westlake Park to Seattle City Hall.

"It means we're still here and I'm proud," said Frieda Eide, an Alaskan native and member of the Tlingit Tribe. "I'd like to see more involvement with other communities joining together and acknowledging whose land we're on." 

Sara Jacobsen, left, never gave much thought to the Chilkat robe hanging over her dining room table. Until she took a class in high school, when she saw another robe that looked eerily similar to the one at home.
Courtesy of Sara Jacobsen

Sara Jacobsen, 19, grew up eating family dinners beneath a stunning Native American robe.


What was expected to be a two-day hearing on tribal sovereignty spilled into its third day Friday. The provincial government in British Columbia is appealing a landmark decision that reestablished hunting rights for members of an Indian tribe who live on both sides of the border.

Members of the Sinixt Indian tribe reside on the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville in Washington. Last spring, one of them won a landmark court case in Canada reestablishing their tribal rights there.

The forest fires raging in the Columbia River Gorge are unlikely to disturb adult coho salmon right now. But Northwest tribal fishers are worried about what will happen in the fall.

Nobu Koch / Sealaska Heritage Institute

When Bruce Jacobsen moved to Seattle in 1986, he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. He wanted to express his appreciation with a piece of Native art, and found one at a gallery Pioneer Square: an antique Chilkat robe.

"I just thought it was so beautiful, and it was like nothing I had seen before," Jacobsen said.


Why more Native Americans are homeless in Seattle

Aug 18, 2017
Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club.
KUOW Photo/Katherine Banwell

The number of Native Americans on King County streets is greater than ever. A recent survey found that there are more American Indians and Alaska Natives than a year ago.

Colleen Echohawk said there are many reasons for that, but the most important is that Natives are nervous about trusting the current system of finding houses for them.

Storme Webber's  'I Cover the Waterfront', a 1950s photograph of the artist's grandmother, 2016. Digital prints modified from original.
Courtesy of Frye Art Museum/Storme Webber

For much of the 20th century, Pioneer Square was the heart of Seattle’s gay community.

Artist Storme Webber grew up lesbian in Seattle and often went to Pioneer Square with her mother – who was also gay.


Flickr/Daniella Urdinlaiz (CC BY 2.0)

Comedian George Carlin is funny and serious as he talks about white privilege, things he could do without, and why he dislikes the label Native American. 

"They're not natives, they emigrated here. They came from Asia. And putting the word American on them is the supreme insult. After you steal their cultures, put them on the worst land possible, give them blankets with smallpox then turn around and give your name. It's repulsive." 

Carlin was interviewed by KUOW's Steve Scher on the occasion of publishing his book "Brain Droppings." 

Shxwhá:y drummer Leonard Gladstone, 17, center, stands while drumming on Thursday, July 27, 2017, while waiting for the 'Emma canoe' to arrive in Tsawassen, British Columbia.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Over the past few weeks, dozens of tribes across the Pacific Northwest have been paddling canoes 200-400 miles on the salty waters between Washington and Vancouver Island.

Deborah Alexander led about a dozen young paddlers on the annual canoe journey along traditional trade routes. Alexander’s canoe was filled with many people, including herself, who have been disenrolled from their tribe.


A new film based on an award-winning novel by a Portland author is playing across the country this summer. It’s star hails from Yakima, Washington.

The triumph and tragedy of the Ballard Locks

Jul 3, 2017
A postcard of the Ballard Locks, 1917
Flickr Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/ecguhZ

Bill Radke speaks with Seattle Times environment reporter Lynda Mapes about the 100-year anniversary of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, also known as the Ballard Locks.

Mapes discusses how truly transformational the Locks were, for both good and ill. She details the ways in which the city was reshaped in ways that were only possibly because of the Locks. But she also discusses the human cost and how the oppressed Native American population was even further harmed by this progress. 

Kwiaht

The Bureau of Land Management will not allow an archaeological dig at Iceberg Point in the San Juan Islands this summer after officials got an earful from residents concerned about possible impacts to the popular area.

KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

The federal government explained to the Nooksack tribe Wednesday how it will take over tribal health and social services.

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