New boat tour aims to raise awareness for unrecognized tribes

Posted at 12:13 PM, Aug 04, 2021

SEATTLE, Wash. — If you’ve ever been to Seattle, you know it has world-class seafood, great coffee, and the Space Needle. The city on the sound also has a deep history with Native American tribes.

“A lot of the tourists that come here don’t really understand that this is traditionally native territories,” said Kyle Griffith, the owner and operator of Salish Sea Tours, the newest boat tour in Seattle.

“The biggest thing is to let everyone know that we are still here,” he said.

Griffith is a member of the Chinook Indian Tribe in Washington. That tribe, along with the Duwamish Tribe, are two of more than 700 groups applying for recognition as a tribe by the federal government.

“Tribes that are federally recognized accept the jurisdiction of the United States and the laws of the United States and they have all of what the law calls privileges and immunity of federally recognized tribes in the United States,” said Eric Eberhard, a law at the University of Washington.

Eberhard says one of the main benefits tribes get from becoming federally recognized is the ability to run casinos.

But other benefits include access to federal housing programs, funded education through high school, and income and food assistance.

But many tribes aren’t recognized. So, Griffith and his new tour are trying to change that.

“We are still here and we are still proud to be here. And this recognition struggle, we all should be helping to right the wrong. There’s no reason the Duwamish Tribe should be suffering and my tribe should be suffering, and we should all be working together to help,” said Griffith.

Even with awareness, the road to federal recognition is long.

“The process typically takes 20, 30, 40 years,” said Eberhard. “It begins when the tribe sends what’s known as a letter of intent to the Secretary of Interior that says they want to be federally recognized.”

Tribes have to prove they’ve been operating continuously since 1900, prove that they have exercised political influence and authority during that time, prove current citizens descend from the historic tribe, prove that membership is unique, and prove that they weren’t terminated as an active tribe through an act of Congress, as well as other requirements.

It’s a long and expensive process.

Griffith is just going to take it one boat ride at a time, hoping he can impact people and give them a great tour.

“We just hope that people come down and enjoy themselves on the boats, they learn the real history of Seattle, they get to see the beautiful views, take pictures, enjoy themselves,” he said.