Taking Back the Narrative: SJO Event

Written by: Sanjevni Prasad

“They thought they were going to get gifts, so they signed. They signed the treaty without knowing what they were giving or giving up, they were promised reserves. Mass extinction caused by chemical warfare; diseases. Populations reduced dramatically making it easier to overtake the resources. In other words, colonization” 

-Didahalqid, an elder from the Coast Salish tribe, shared in a melancholy tone. 

The Coast Salish event on October 16th, hosted by the Social Justice Organizers (S.J.O.), was created to inform University of Washington Bothell students about Indigenous people. Didahalqid, English name Michael Evans, used a dramatic retelling of the First People’s history to clarify details of the people that are often misconstrued.  

Dressed in Indigenous garments, Didahalqid began by pointing out that the title ‘Native American’ and ‘Indian’ should not be used, instead, use ‘First People’ or ‘Indigenous’. The previous two labels, ‘Native American’ and ‘Indian’, have a close connotation to the people’s horrific past.

Didahalqid shared that First People do not want to be associated with Americans, the people that colonized and eradicated their population, nor do they want to continue to be mislabeled as “Indians, an error by Columbus. Using terms like ‘Native American’ and Indian rob the Indigenous people of their right to choose what they would like to be called. 

The label ‘tribe’ is also incorrect as First People associate themselves based on their longhouse’s name. Longhouses are enormous homes for Indigenous people. 

Didahalqid stated “one shouldn’t use ‘tribes’ as it is an English word. Identity is based on the longhouse where they came from. That would be considered the ‘tribe’ they are from. Each house had specific chiefs: house chief, war chief, and speaker. Chief Si’ahl (Seattle) was all three.”

It is extremely important to know which terms to use when labeling a population that continues to undergo turmoil. Continuing the tradition of mislabelling an overlooked population shows a lack of progression as a community. Didahalqid stated that as members of UWB the first step we can take towards giving First People their voice back is by acknowledging the fact that our campus is on Duwamish land. 

SJO supervisor Ben Lopez clarified that UWB is on Duwamish and Sammamish land. The First People had fluid borders and both tribes lived in this area. While Coast Salish is an umbrella term used to describe any tribe in the general Seattle area. 

Didahalqid informed students that land ownership and Federal recognition as a tribe is extremely important as it grants significant privileges. The tribe would be at the same level as the Federal government: allowing the tribe to engage in contracts, write their own laws, create businesses, receive federal funds for food, housing and commerce. There are 29 recognized groups in the state of WA. Yet, 1000s are unrecognized by the Federal government. 

The Didahalqid ended the dialogue with a call to action for students to use their voice to demand the recognition of tribes, “where are the people today? Where are the Duwamish? They are not a federally recognized tribe. They have been formally turned down after a 20 year petition. The next step could be suing in Federal court or going to congress. Have a grassroot movement where everyone says the duwamish need to be recognized, chinook all need to be recognized.”

If you have any questions about First People you can reach out to Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center at info@unitedindians.org

If you would like to learn more about Didahalqid’s Blue Heron Canoe his website is blueheroncanoe.wpcomstaging.com

You can also reach out to your SJO’s about future dialogues or any questions you may have at uwbsjo@uw.edu

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