South West Stories: Ken Workman

“This we know; The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.  This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  All things are connected”

–Chief Si’ahl, Namesake of the City of Seattle

On Sunday, Aug 21, 2 p.m., Delridge Library hosts Ken Workman, member of Duwamish Tribal Council, and great-great-great-great grandson of Chief Seattle. This event is part of the South West Stories monthly series presenting the history of West Seattle, the Duwamish Peninsula and the Birthplace of Seattle – in collaboration with Southwest Seattle Historical Society.

Ken Workman will talk about the land, the legacy of the Duwamish and the perspective of the modern-day tribe. The First People of this area, Dkhw’Duw’Absh, “The People of the Inside”, share an oral history based in geologic events of Puget Sound since the last Ice Age. Their stories contain traditional teachings about community, generosity, kindness, and making healthy decisions.

In 1979, an archeological excavation in the Dkhw’Duw’Absh ancestral homeland unearthed artifact fragments that were radiocarbon-dated to the Sixth Century AD.1 Yet by comparison, it was only in 1851 that the first European-Americans arrived to Alki Point. At that time, the Dkhw’Duw’Absh were occupying at least 17 villages, living in over 90 longhouses.2

“When you talk about this place we call Seattle, the Duwamish have been walking on it for more than 10,000 years, not just the 200 it’s been named Seattle.” – Ken Workman3

Today the Duwamish have 569 enrolled members, and are governed by a 1925 constitution and bylaws. The Duwamish Tribal Council has been seeking federal re-recognition as a tribe for 25 years.4 The Federal Government says there is a “lack of evidence concerning the continuous existence of a “distinct American-Indian community” and “tribal political influence or authority,” as required by 1978 and 1994 rules.5 Last June, the Federal Government reaffirmed they would not bestow formal recognition upon them. As Workman stated in an interview,

“It hit everyone hard when it got handed down. We’re still reeling from that. It’s very difficult to walk around when people say you’re extinct.”6

This past April, the Green-Duwamish River was named one of the top 10 most endangered rivers in the nation.7 When the EPA released its draft plan they said there can be “no guarantee” it will ever be safe for people to regularly consume the resident fish caught in the Duwamish River. To learn more visit their website, or attend the upcoming 10th Anniversary Duwamish River Festival / Festival del Río Duwamish on Aug 20.

We can imagine that for a group of people who have been rooted in one place all the way back since the last Ice Age, a lot has changed in the last 165 years, and not necessarily for the better. There is a lot we can learn about the Dkhw’Duw’Absh culture that can help us understand this land that we call Seattle, more deeply. We can educate ourselves as we try to clean up our rivers and clean up our relations to the Duwamish people.

For more information about the event, visit our website. Also — if you can join us, consider visiting the Log House Museum, where you can use your library card to get a museum pass. Or visit the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center for free.

Works Cited


2 ibid






~Posted by Nicole S

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