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A Duwamish Elder, Tribal Leader Finds Her Voice

Duwamish Tribal Chair Cecile Hansen (r) and Tribal Member Ken Workman (l), 5th generation grandson of Chief Si’ahl

By Duwamish Tribal Council Chair, Cecile Hansen

Our Duwamish Tribe remains here as the People of the Inside. Our home was mostly forested, rivers, lakes, streams that shaped our way of life – I can only imagine how pristine it was – only to became sources of industry in timber and fishing for the white settlers. As I have said to all who will listen, we are not going anywhere and will not give up until we are fully restored.

As a young girl who grew into her Duwamish heritage, persuaded by my brother Manny who just wanted to keep fishing along the riverbanks, I became a reluctant leader of our tribe. Before I go, I want my kids and grandkids to know what it was like for me, and how important it was to protect the pulse of our people’s lifeline and keep breathing hope into the embers of our Tribe – when I would feed them breakfast and have to leave to “go to a meeting.”

I say this because, I was not looking to be a leader. It was never some grand aspiration of mine. When I think as far back to when I was a little girl, it was torture to speak-up and find my voice. I was so shy and really kept to myself for much of my life before I got involved with the tribe. So, when Manny kept pushing me around the time of the fishing wars in Washington, I got involved and stayed involved. I even joined a club to learn how to get more comfortable with public speaking. I got to thinking that I better sound like a leader if I was supposed to follow in the steps of the long line of esteemed Duwamish Tribal leaders. Given that I was so reserved, stepping out for attention was unlike me.  But I realized that I knew some stuff – my life, family, the issues tribal members are fighting for and struggling with – so I must speak. I eventually found my voice and the courage to advocate as a leader on behalf of the Duwamish Tribe and our hundreds of tribal members today.

As I look back and keep looking forward on this Acknowledgment journey, my faith is unshakeable for I know that justice will come one day for my Tribe and our members, descendants of Chief Si’ahl’s mother’s tribe. But as the longest serving leader of my Tribe, descended from an unbroken line of tribal leaders who have drawn our legacy of strength from our great leader and his forsaken mother, I am a Duwamish grandmother, mother, sister, and daughter who must carry our cause forward.

woman in red coat and jeans stands on baseball field with a player in blue Seattle Mariners uniform. her arms are raised upwards and she is holding a baseball in her left hand.
Duwamish Tribal Chair Cecile Hansen throws out the first pitch at Seattle Mariners Game on October 1, 2021.

Cecile Hansen is the chair of the Duwamish Tribal Council, the governing entity of the Duwamish Tribe and its hundreds of enrolled tribal members. She has served in this role since 1975, the eleventh tribal chair in an unbroken line of leaders that date back to the leadership of Chief Si’ahl dating back to 1840. Cecile’s involvement with the Tribe was spurred by her younger brother Manny, a Duwamish fisherman who would frequently get penalized or arrested for exercising his treaty and cultural rights. She has served on the committees and leadership of the Small Tribes of Western Washington, developing deep friendships and allyship with many leaders of Northwest Tribes. Cecile has advocated on behalf of the Duwamish Tribe and their road to restoration of their federal recognition for nearly 50 years and continues to this day.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.