Leaders of the Duwamish and Chinook Indian Tribes at the PICA conference screening of Promised Land on November 18, 2016. • Photo by Lexi Potter

On Friday, November 18, the Pre-conquest Indigenous Cultures & its Aftermath (PICA) Conference held its last day with a theme exploring The Struggle for Indigenous Communities for Self Determination. PICA celebrates the similarities and nuances among Asian, Latinos, and Indigenous groups and is a collaboration between the American Ethnic Studies Department—University of Washington, OCA—Greater Seattle, Duwamish Tribe, Chinook Tribe, Chinese American Citizen Alliance, and more. The day started off with a tour of the Burke Museum, followed by a screening of the Promised Land, and a cultural presentation by the Duwamish and Chinook Tribe.

The Promise Land follows the Duwamish and Chinook tribe as they fight for the restoration of treaty rights that have been long denied. Exploring the relationship between the federal government and indigenous tribes, Promised Land examines how the United States government and society treats tribal sovereignty.

The Chinook tribe resided in the lower Columbia River region, around southwest Washington and northwest Oregon. Most notably, the Chinook welcomed Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean. In 1851, the Chinook tribe signed the Tansy Point Treaty with Anson Dart, the Superintendent for Indian Affairs in the Oregon Territory. The Tansy Point Treaty allowed the Chinook to live in their aboriginal territory, maintain access to resources, and most importantly, remain in close-proximity with their ancestors. However, the U.S. government, never formally ratified the treaty, although the Chinook upheld their obligations.

The Duwamish tribe are the First People of the City of Seattle, Mercer Island, Renton, Bellevue, Tukwila, and much of King County. In 1855, representatives from the Duwamish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Lummi, Skagit, Swinomish, other tribes, and Territorial Governor Isaac Steven signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. The Treaty of Point Elliott guaranteed fishing rights and reservations to the tribes. However, the U.S. government did not fulfill its commitments to the Duwamish under the Point Elliott Treaty, and did not received a reservation.

The lack of federal recognition of Duwamish and Chinook sovereignty is even more striking in Seattle and Pacific Northwest. Seattle is named after a Duwamish chief, Chief Si’ahk. Cities and towns throughout the Pacific Northwest are in Chinuk Wawa and Lushootseed, the region’s indigenous language.

Promised Land interviewed former Representatives Brian Baird (WA-3rd District) and Jim McDermott (WA-7th) who advocated for federal recognition of the Chinook and Duwamish tribe. In 2001, toward the end of the Clinton administration, the United States recognized the Duwamish tribe. However, during the Bush administration, the government withdrew its recognition of the Duwamish tribe, citing procedural errors. However, without Baird or McDermott in Congress, it is uncertain if the Duwamish and Chinook will have an ally in government or how close they will be to receiving federal recognition.

Both the Duwamish and Chinook tribes have governing structures. These tribes signed treaties, helped white settlers, and lost their land. The Duwamish and Chinook are not necessarily asking for money, reparations, or assisted resources. Rather, both tribes ask for the federal government to recognize that they exist and uphold the treaties that both governments signed.

Promised Land was screened at the following film festivals and is recognized in the film community:

  • Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking, 10th Annual LA Skins Fest
  • Official selection for the 41st Annual American Indian Film Festival
  • Northwest Film Forum’s 19th Local Sightings Film Festival
  • 12th Annual Ellensburg Film Festival
  • 5th Annual Social Justice Film Festival

With recent events in the Standing Rock protest against the North Dakota Access Pipeline, indigenous rights continue to be violated throughout the United States. Indigenous identity and sovereignty is a social justice issue and we should address. Whose land do we inhabit and how do we right these wrongs?

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