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Native American Heritage

Native American Heritage

"We have always been here, we are still here, we will always be here." - Upper Skagit Elder Vi Hilbert (1918-2008)

Seattle is Indian Country. The city is named for a hereditary chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish people, many of our communities and landscape features have Indian names, and tribal artwork can be found throughout the city's museums, galleries and public squares. Several Indian tribes call the Seattle area home, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoot, Snoqualmie, Tulalip, and Puyallup Nations. In addition, Seattle is home to a diverse group of Native people from throughout Washington, Alaska and the rest of North America.

Lushootseed, or Puget Sound Salish, is the Coast Salish language that is traditionally spoken in the Seattle area, and tribes are working hard to sustain the language through youth and adult education programs. In recent years, a cultural revival has taken place in Puget Sound Native communities, based on renewing the traditions of canoe carving and canoe journeys, and passing them on to younger generations.

Archaeological sites in the Puget Sound area date back over 10,000 years, and are found throughout the landscape, from high in the Cascade Mountains to lowland rivers and beaches. For many generations, traditional life was based on two primary resources: cedar and salmon. Oral histories among tribal groups feature a spirit being called Transformer who created the landscape where people live. Given the region's dynamic history of earthquakes and volcanoes, Transformer may still be at work today.

Indian tribes in the Puget Sound region ceded thousands of acres of their traditional lands under the Treaty of Medicine Creek (1854) and the Treaty of Point Elliott (1855) to the United States government. Tribes today are sovereign nations which hold treaty rights for fishing, shellfishing and hunting, and serve as co-managers, along with federal and state governments, of natural and cultural resources.

Seattle's Native American heritage can be experienced in many ways – by visiting museums and heritage sites, attending festivals and special events, and exploring the city with an awareness of Native legacies in the place names, artistic traditions and community events that make Seattle unique.

Did You Know?

Seattle's citywide summer celebration, known as SEAFAIR since 1950, was once called the Golden Potlatch Festival. The festival boasted parades, races, and community fairs, and was planned as part of the commemoration of the Alaska Gold Rush.

The potatch is a ceremonial feast and gift distribution practiced by Northwest Coast Tribes. Seattle's festival was organized by a group of downtown businessmen who dubbed themselves the "Tillicums of Elttaes." Tillicum or tilikum means "friend" in Chinook jargon, the region's intertribal and contact-era trade language, and Elttaes is Seattle spelled backwards.

brochure pdf

Seattle Native American Heritage Brochure
Download the guide here.