DUWAMISH LONGHOUSE. The Duwamish plan to build a longhouse and cultural center on land alongside West Marginal Way as this architectural model shows. Photo by Amber Trillo.

Duwamish Tribe to build longhouse, cultural center

A group of contractors interested in building the $3 million Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center on West Marginal Way recently met at tribe headquarters to learn more about the planned project and possibly submit bids, which are due in mid-July.

Construction of the two-story, 6,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to begin in August.

Like many other tribes in the Northwest, the Duwamish Indians lived in what were called longhouses. The cedar structures were longer than they were wide and could be partitioned inside to accommodate families as well as activities. Much of old-time Duwamish life occurred in longhouses.

The new longhouse and cultural center will stand in the 4700 block of West Marginal Way on property the tribe owns. It will be built across the street from Herring's House Park, site of a Duwamish settlement.

"There were 54 longhouses along the water," said Duwamish Tribe Chairperson Cecile Hansen. Chief Seattle lived in a longhouse at the site when he was a boy, she said.

The longhouse section of the new structure will be on the south side of the building, with a main room large enough to feed 200 people. The tribe hopes to establish a dinner theater, where Indian actors, musicians and storytellers could perform, Hansen said.

The tribe's administrative offices and a conference room will be in the northern section of the building too.

The second floor will hold exhibition space to display Duwamish artifacts, some of which are currently at the Museum of History and Industry in Montlake. There will also be scholarly papers and other research materials which students, writers and historians will be able to study.

A collection of recorded interviews of Duwamish elders telling stories about the tribe's past will be available to study too.

The new space also will exhibit contemporary Indian art.

A large skylight will be positioned to capture not only sunlight but moonlight too.

An integral part of the center's design will be large cedar logs with carvings. "House posts" will represent the main families in the tribe. Carvings will symbolize modern Indian problems such as the pressure to assimilate into the dominant American culture, and figuring out how to carry on Duwamish customs in an urban setting.

Numerous well-known foundations contributed money to the project, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation. The Boeing Co. contributed as did the city of Seattle, King County and the state of Washington.

Among the earliest contributors was the largely West Seattle group Friends of the Duwamish.

The tribe has raised about 90 percent of the $2.96 million the new facility is expected to cost. Cecile Hansen worries people might get complacent while they are still 10 percent short of their goal. Besides, she cautioned, the price of the project is likely to increase because inflation has had a particularly strong effect on the construction industry. Building costs have risen faster than general inflation, she said.

The Duwamish Tribe's homeland is now overrun with Seattleites. The Duwamish have no reservation . They aren't even recognized as a tribe by the U.S. government . Duwamish culture is nearly invisible in its native habitat.

"Down at Fourth and Denny they have (the statue of) the chief with his hand up," Hansen said. "That's it."

She believes the longhouse and cultural center will go a long way toward re-establishing Duwamish culture in Seattle.

"I think this will rise to the level of hope," Hansen said.

Tim St. Clair can be reached at timstc@robinsonnews.com or 932-0300.

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