Posted on May 15, 2019

A Native American Tribe Gets Rent as Reparations in Seattle

Hallie Golden, MSN, May 11, 2019

The Duwamish Tribe says the United States never made good on an 1855 treaty covering land that is now Seattle. So, some people are voluntarily paying them rent.

Since 2017, the Duwamish Tribe in Seattle has received thousands of letters. Some have been a simple “thanks” or “we’re with you.” Others have been a bit more profound, mentioning restorative justice and payback for stolen land. “I’m a visiting student, living temporarily in Seattle. This is one small way of giving back to the Duwamish, whose land I live on,” said one note. But every one of the messages have given this Native American community two very important gifts — “rent” and proof that they are not alone.

The correspondence is part of Real Rent Duwamish, a program started two years ago to help people who live or work in Seattle give back to the area’s early inhabitants by sending them money every month. Today, there are more than 2,200 people who send the tribe “rent” each month through a simple online payment system, and many more who send them one-time donations, according to Jolene Haas, director of the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, and daughter of Duwamish Tribal Chairwoman Cecile Hansen. The average payment is between $50 and $100 dollars. The tribe has received a total of over $300,000 through Real Rent.


Real Rent was started by a grassroots group in Seattle called the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites, or CARW, in an effort to support the Duwamish and their ongoing fight for federal recognition. Unlike hundreds of other tribes across the U.S., the Duwamish have not been officially acknowledged as a tribe. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Interior issued a “final decision,” denying them recognition after decades of applications and appeals from the Duwamish. {snip}

The 600-member tribe is led by a tribal council and operates out of its Longhouse and Cultural Center, a single building on a third of an acre in Seattle. It also runs the non-profit Duwamish Tribal Services, that works to both educate the public about the tribe’s history and culture, and support the community’s survival. {snip}

These challenging periods are compounded by the fact that the tribe once controlled 54,000 acres that today make up metropolitan Seattle and a few of its surrounding cities. In the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, they exchanged that land for a reservation along with hunting and fishing rights. A few years after the treaty was ratified and the Duwamish had not received a reservation, a U.S. Indian Agent recommended the federal government follow through with their end of the deal. But Seattle civic leaders, among others, pushed back, calling the reservation an injustice, according to the Duwamish Tribe’s website. {snip}


At its core, Real Rent Duwamish is simply a donation system. There are other programs in the U.S. that facilitate donations to organizations that support Native Americans: The Partnership With Native Americans, in Addison, Texas, is a nonprofit that helps members of 60 tribes in the U.S. with everything from health and education to emergency relief. Adopt-A-Native-Elder helps Navajo elders in both Arizona and Utah. But where Real Rent stands out, is in its presentation.

By asking the public to pay rent to the tribe, it is posited as a form of restitution, one that educates people about the history of Seattle. And because the payments are regular, the Duwamish have recurring income. {snip}


{snip} With Seattle’s incredible population growth, the many new residents appearing each day often have little to no understanding of the area’s history or its early Native American inhabitants. {snip}