Duwamish Tribe - History - Before White Settlement - Society


See also: Coast Salish#Culture group or ethnography

There is very little information prior to the 1850s about ancestors of today's Duwamish people, for a mix of reasons. The anthropological societal descriptions we have snapshot structures in the second quarter of the 19th century and a little after. European contact and changes began accelerating greatly from 1833.

For 500 generations they flourished until newcomers came... much was lost; much was devalued, but much was also hidden away in the hearts of the dispossessed.

Their voices insist upon a hearing and the cumulative wisdom of their long residence in this land offers rich insights to those willing to listen. The challenge now is to find a way to make knowledge of the ancient traditions, the experience of change and the living reality accessible and available.

- David M. Buerge, "Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest: An Introduction"

Each village had one or more cedar plank longhouse (khwaac'ál'al or syúdəbàl?txʷ) containing extended families in a social structure that foreshadowed cohousing of today. Tens of people lived in each one. There are several reasonable approximations to longhouses in Seattle today. The entry and beam architecture of restaurateur Ivar Haglund's Salmon House Restaurant (1969) beside Lake Union in Northlake is as authentically accurate as building codes allowed. Another example is actual, on the north face of the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. More recently, the design of the main hall of the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center (opened 2009) closely echoes a traditional longhouse.

Villages were usually located facing a beach and body of water or river navigable by canoe, near a creek and drinking water source. Beyond the diffuse villages and anthropogenic grasslands, most land was heavily forested. Understory tended to be dense along the edges; travel by canoe was generally far more practical than by land. The nearby creek (dᶻəlíxʷ) would often be called Little Water(stútələkʷ), an endearing familiar.

The People of the Inside and the People of the Large Lake, like other Salish, were more a collection of villages linked by language and family ties than a nation or state. Relationships and stature among family and community were important measures or goals in life.

The People of the Inside, the People of the Large Lake, the People of Lake Sammamish and to a little lesser extent, the People of the Snoqualmie were all closely interrelated in a daisy chain following the geography. The Suquamish were also related. Of these, the first two, today's Duwamish, were a relatively dense population on prime real estate, and were the most immediately dispossessed at the time of Whites settlement.

Trading relationships and privileges were extensive between peoples of the entire Pacific Northwest (or "Cascadia"), including over the passes to what is now Eastern Washington. Relationships and trade were often cemented with the world-wide practice of intermarriage. Villages were linked to others through intermarriage, which also carried status and trading privileges; the wife usually went to live at the husband's village. While each extended family village might have their own customs, there were strong commonalities, particularly in language but also including philosophical beliefs, economic conditions, and ceremonial practices. The central and southern part of Puget Sound was the primary waterway connecting the greater Lushootseed (Skagit-Nisqually) Coast Salish Nations. Environmental resources were so abundant that the Skagit-Nisqually Salish had one of the world's few sedentary hunter-gatherer societies. Life before the arrival of Europeans revolved around a social organization based on house groupings within a village, and reciprocal hospitality within and between villages.

Society was divided into upper class, lower class, and slaves, all largely hereditary. Nobility was based on impeccable genealogy, inter-tribal kinship, wise use of resources, and possession of esoteric knowledge about the workings of spirits and the spirit world, making an effective marriage of class, secular, religious, and economic power. Like some other Native American Nations, the People of the Inside and the People of the Large Lake made their free-born look different: mothers carefully shaped the heads of their young babies, binding them with cradle boards just long enough to produce a steep sloping forehead. Traditionally there was no recognized permanent political leadership, which confused and frustrated people of European ancestry when they began to trade and settle in the area. There was little political organization that was understood by Europeans. The highest-ranking appropriate male would assume the role of ceremonial leader for some timely purpose, but rank could be variable and was determined by different standards.

Read more about this topic:  Duwamish Tribe, History, Before White Settlement

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