As a girl, Cecile Hansen knew that Indian blood ran through her veins, but she never dreamed that she was a tribal princess. Her father was a logger and fisherman and her mother a cannery worker, and outwardly they lived much as hundreds of other blue-collar families did in the 1950s in what’s now Burien. They were devoutly Catholic and active in the church. Money was tight, so her father and brother fished to put food on the table. Every Sunday friends from various local tribes gathered at their home for a potluck dinner.
Then, when Cecile was 13, her mother mentioned in the course of a casual conversation that she was the great-great-grandniece of Chief Seattle, leader of the Duwamish tribe and steadfast friend of the whites who named their city after him. At the time, the news meant little to Hansen. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she began to explore her heritage. Talking with elders and historians, she learned how the Duwamish, “the people of the inside,” had been displaced from this, their native soil, and driven to the brink of extinction. Reluctantly at first, she took up a century-old cause—to restore her people’s legacy, to bring them out of the shadows and back into their birthright, to make the world acknowledge the existence of this land’s original inhabitants.
Since then, for nearly half her life, pint-size Cecile Hansen has battled on every field she can find, from the labyrinthine corridors of power in Washington, DC, to the federal courts and the wider court of public opinion, demanding rights and privileges promised by solemn treaty 153 years ago. She has badgered bureaucrats, cajoled congressmen, launched an epic lawsuit, even enlisted a community in building the first great native longhouse on Puget Sound in 115 years—all to prove that the Duwamish tribe, the first Seattleites, did not die off and will not disappear. Now, after decades of hope, heartache, and disappointment, this struggle approaches its climax: a final decision on what Cecile Hansen calls “the survival of our people.”
All evidence suggests that Hansen’s people have lived here since the last ice age ended, 10,000 years ago. Once they occupied more than 40 villages scattered from Burien almost to Everett, as far east as Lake Sammamish—the core of what we now call Pugetopolis. This strategic turf made the tribe a key player in the trade networks that ran along the West Coast, and in the region’s intertribal politics.