“Lake John” (Cheslahud) on Lake Union, 1885
Through the strength of Duwamish Families, Duwamish tradition and identity persists despite decades of supression. To honor the centrality of families in preserving and perpetuating Duwamish identity, our architectural plans feature house posts representing each one of the main Duwamish families. The posts hold up our roof, just like the families upheld our culture during 150 years of cultural devastation.
Our oral histories contain a persistent theme. Many city-dwelling elders who intermarried with settlers hid their Duwamish heritage throughout their lives from all but their most intimate friends, families and other tribal members. Self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors have marred many of our families.
Our hand carved cedar house posts will tell the distinct pathways toward survival - including pressures and choices to assimilate into the dominant culture, efforts to maintain Duwamish heritage in an urban setting, and life on reservations. Based on written records and oral histories, tribal members and visitors will have an opportunity to acknowledge each family's unique trajectory as it struggled to maintain a distinctive Duwamish identity. Many Duwamish practices were banned by law and were forced underground but Duwamish traditions continued quietly and covertly. Our Cultural Center will be a place where the descendants of Chief Si’ahl and his people can proudly, collectively and openly express their heritage. Our vision of a living history requires a blending of art and innovative display.
Traditionally, elders handed down our history and stories through an oral tradition. We are exploring how we may create "talking family posts" where each family's story can literally be heard with the push of a button. Our oral history program underwritten by the Washington Commission for the Humanities, King County Cultural Resources and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods has given us a wealth of first-person family histories. We have recorded on tape the life stories of our elders, and their memories of their elders. With the talking poles, we can potentially share the stories of generations, through their recorded voices.