For the Duwamish Tribe, recognition is a big deal. So it will be a profound moment when members of the Tribe’s youth group TilibSedeb accept the Mayor’s Arts Award later this month, standing on the ground where their ancestors once flourished.
“It is a human right and gift to be acknowledged and respected for being who you are,” says Cindy Williams, the Tribe’s youth coordinator. “We raise our hands to the City of Seattle for honoring and remembering that in this small way through our youth. We find that very significant!”
The Duwamish People occupied the land where the City of Seattle now sits for 10,000 years until they were displaced by settlers in the 1800s. Many say that the Tribe is extinct, but 600 people still identify as Duwamish. These people have spent years fighting for federal recognition, to no avail. While many efforts have focused on this administrative goal, some members of the tribe have been working actively to bring the Duwamish culture back. In 2001 tribe chair Cecile Hansen started TilibSedeb, translated as “Singing Feet,” to help instill the Duwamish language and traditions to the children of the Tribe.
More than ten years later, the Seattle Arts Commission has singled out the group for giving expression to the “belief that learning traditional values and taking pride in accomplishments can help youth avoid drug and alcohol addiction and become contributing members of their community and society.”
In addition to performing at various events throughout the year, the group has also taken part in environmental efforts, including the clean-up of the Duwamish River. The future of the river, as well as that of the Tilibsedeb and the Tribe, is in the hands of the youth. The award comes at pivotal time, as the elders hand the reigns over to the students in the 11-year-old group.
“Our youth are getting older now and exploring other arenas of life and study,” Williams says. “It is our plan to give them more authority and responsibility for the group and hopefully that will light a fire in them to want to teach what they have learned.”
The Mayor’s Arts Awards will be held at Seattle Center at noon on Aug. 31.
Photo of TilibSedeb by Jennifer Richard.