Academic journal article Ethnology

Tribal Estates: A Comparative and Case Study

Academic journal article Ethnology

Tribal Estates: A Comparative and Case Study

Article excerpt

Land, or some other form of a tangible estate which includes water, property, and other natural resources, is indispensable to the economic and social well-being of tribal people. The concept of "tribe," as used in a secondary sociopolitical sense, has some notion of a common culture and territory (Fried 1975; Hunter and Whitten 1976:393-94; Service 1971:101; Sturtevant 1983:6). Dislocated tribal people generally seek some tangible estate in order to maintain their common fund and their system of values. For example, when tribal estates were lost through contact with superior political powers, such as the U. S. federal government, Native Americans continued to perpetuate their cultures and press claims to some tangible estate.

This article compares three types of cases in which Native Americans have sought to regain some semblance of their former estates. One, the Tulalip Federated Tribes of Washington (Tulalip Tribes), represents the mainline tribes that signed treaties, moved to reservations, reorganized in the 1930s, and received government services. The Tlingit and Haida represent a second type: those nontreaty tribes that lost their civil rights under federal control but eventually regained a semblance of their former estate through congressional action. Those treaty tribes that never received any tribal reservation or allotments on other reservations, and have yet to achieve any tangible estate, like the Duwamish, represent the third type. Since the Duwamish are the focus of this document, a special section will analyze data that demonstrate the extent to which the Duwamish people exist as a distinct polity and culture in the most urbanized area in the state of Washington.

Clarence Bagley (1929:183-86), noted Washington State historian, states that neither the American government nor the American people ever took the Indian treaties seriously, but viewed them more as makeshift adjustments to temporarily avoid trouble than as permanent settlements. In 1857, Indian Agent Paige urged the federal government to set aside a reservation for the Duwamish near the "Lake Fork of the Duwamish River," on the site of a former military post (Indian Claims Commission 1974:37). However, the proposed Fort Dent site never materialized as a reservation because some 170 local settlers sent a petition to Congress to oppose it. This petition charged that a reservation "would do great injustice to this section of country" (Washington Superintendency 1824-1881).

Over a century later, the Duwamish are still seeking compensation for their aboriginal land according to agreements made in the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855. In the 1960s, some compensation was made to the Duwamish Tribe in the sum of $62,000, awarded by the Indian Claims Commission for the loss of 54,990 acres of land (Indian Claims Commission 1962:2). But the money was never given to the Duwamish Tribe. Instead, the federal government made a per capita disbursement to approximately 1,148 descendants of Duwamish Indians, some 75 per cent of whom were neither on the tribal rolls nor had any ties to the Duwamish Tribe (L'Esperance 1964). The Duwamish Tribal Council contends that because the treaty was a corporate document, not an individual contract, the sum should have been given to the tribe to be used for tribal projects, rather than to individuals to be used for personal concerns.


The Tulalip Tribes are those descendants of Puget Sound Indians who signed the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855 and moved to the Tulalip Reservation. This reservation consisted of some "thirty-six sections... for the purpose of establishing thereon an agricultural and industrial school...with a view of ultimately drawing thereto and settling thereon all the Indians living west of the Cascade mountains...provided however, that the President may establish the central agency and general reservation at such other point as he may deem for the benefit of the Indians" (Point Elliott Treaty 1855 Art. …

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