CODE: Finding Papers You Exist #YIPP #BadHistory

reunion Pana 1994
meeting my family the first time in 1994 (my dad Earl is on the right)

By Lara Trace (Cherokee-Shawnee-French Canadian-Euro mix)

If you are an American Indian/First Nations/Indigenous, which many of you are, you may find it exceedingly difficult to find paper records that CONFIRM what tribe you think you are… or were told you are.

For example, on Earl’s side of my family, Earl’s aunt Bessie, referred to us as BLACK DUTCH, which is “code” for Cherokee.  My first conversation with my dad he told me we are Indian.  Mystery solved? Not quite.

Code is not uncommon at all.  Since I have been in reunion, my cousin Cathy and I have dug up tons on the “code” and how it makes sense Bessie would say that — since if you were Indian, you’d be forcibly removed to Indian Territory (then malaria-ridden Oklahoma) and you couldn’t own land and that was terrifying, potentially fatal. (Thank you Bessie for telling people that repeatedly.)


For New England tribes, that matter of having “papers” means you exist. For many tribes here, every time you went to Hartford or Boston to make a claim with the courts, you made a record: that paper is now buried in old boxes.  Why would that matter now?

Paper has to exist for you to be federally recognized.  Then as a sovereign you are entitled to promises made when the federal government (not the states) made treaty with your tribe or band.  You’d finally get some of your stolen land back, maybe even compensated!

When I was editor of the Pequot Times, I met with leaders of the Eastern Pequot bands who had done extensive paper research in their bid for federal recognition. They found documents hidden in boxes under Flora and Fauna in Hartford, Connecticut, secret code for “wild indians.”  To this day, the Eastern Pequot are NOT federally recognized and it’s not only frustrating for them (trying over 40+ years), but devious on the part of the FEDS.  (I worked for the Western Pequot or Mashantucket who are recognized). One can only imagine what will happen when PAPERS are found that feds and BIA cannot reject and no longer deny for ANY Eastern tribe.  (Old tricks worked a long time for the clever feds/BIA – demanding paper proof.)

Paper can change things, and I’d mentioned The Yale Indian Papers Project on this blog HERE

From June 29th to July 1st the Yale Indian Papers Project hosted an NEH-sponsored Digital Native American & Indigenous Studies workshop at Yale Divinity School and at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. The three-day event introduced participants to issues of access, preservation, and methodology related to the use of digitized cultural heritage materials in the context of tribal communities and cultures from the territories east of the Mississippi River.

UPDATE:  The Yale Indian Papers Project (YIPP), which first came to YALE in 2003, is an extensive publishing endeavor to digitize the collection of primary source materials relating to New England’s Native American history.  It draws from the archives of numerous institutions, including the Yale University Library, Harvard University Library, The Massachusetts Archives and the National Archives of the United Kingdom.  Researchers are currently working to gather information on the people who lived in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies.   On Aug. 12, the project announced that it had been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, allowing it to expand its work in Massachusetts for three more years. Read More

Both Tobias Glaza and executive editor Paul Grant-Costa said the Indian Papers Project has helped forge new relationships between Yale and Native communities for the first time in several centuriesGrant-Costa said the initial idea for the project arose more than two decades ago as a result of the challenges New England’s Native tribes first faced when trying to become recognized by the federal government. In order for these long-marginalized communities to win recognition, they first need access to historical material that has not been easily accessible in the past, he said.* [I went to their first meetings]

Tribes need paper to exist?  Indeed.  It sounds crazy, and so ludicrous.

Paper is crucially important and having it will break the CODE of erased Indian history right here in New England… no, not all Indians in the east are dead… (bad history again, yes.)

FINALLY we will see papers that reflect truth… finally.

[*YIPP editors are happy the grant will extend their work in Massachusetts for three more years.  Taken together with the Mellon/CLIR and National Archives grants, the editorial efforts will last more than four years, adding 1,650 documents to the New England Indian Papers Series.]


My friend and fellow blogger/author Trav S. D. [Travalanche] has done quite a bit of research, too. He’s a contributor to THE MIX e-mag, and he’s a Cherokee mix like me.

A thoughtful agent friend noticed the growing snowball of posts on Travalanche about American history and my family’s role therein.  Some posts are more focused on my ancestors, some involve me personally, and some are more like op-eds that have grown out of my meditation on my people’s role in our history. As you begin to see, they almost begin to stack up to something like a history of the nation, with an emphasis on race and class, and a greater than normal emphasis on pop culture, and I do believe that’s where I’m bound.  The posts themselves are just raw material — they’re not necessarily what would find their way into the book, they just lay the groundwork.

The Founding of Tennessee and Kentucky, Western New York and Ohio

Davy Crockett

The Second Great Awakening

The Star Spangled Banner 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton 

American Utopianism from 19th Century to Now

The Real Grizzly Adams

William Holland Thomas and the Eastern Band of Cherokee

In addition, these travel posts mention references to places and people in my background: Newport, Salem, Providence, South Street Seaport, and New Orleans.  Many more of these are planned. Also (probably) to come are posts on the French and Indian war, Indian removal, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American war, the World Wars, the Cold War, and enhanced posts on Irish and German ancestors….

READ: A Personal History of the United States (the Person Being ME)










Bad News: Duwamish not federally recognized

Duwamish Tribe Vows to Keep Fighting for Recognition, Despite Decision

The Lummi Youth Canoe glides by an outline of Suquamish-Duwamish leader Chief Sealth.
A Lummi canoe glides by an outline of Suquamish-Duwamish leader Chief Sealth. Alex Garland

by Sydney Brownstone Jul 7, 2015 |The Stranger SLOG

On July 2, the Obama administration told Seattle’s Duwamish tribe that they don’t qualify for long-sought federal recognition. The Duwamish—who include descendants of Chief Sealth, or Seattle, the Suquamish-Duwamish leader who signed the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott—have been fighting for recognition for decades. Last week’s decision, supposedly final, prevents the Duwamish from accessing those treaty rights and economic empowerment through gaming.

On July 6, the Duwamish announced that they’ll keep fighting. Chairperson Cecile Hansen released a statement in response to the federal government’s decision, shaming the Bureau of Indian Affairs for piling on to the long history of cultural genocide:

In the eyes and mind of our people, the Duwamish Tribe does exist. We are extremely disappointed (yet again) in the BIA’s “dehumanizing” decision to do away with our existence according to the rulings that were made in the past.

Please check the history of all Washington Tribes who sought to be recognized by the BIA since the 70’s and are now considered to be legitimate tribes. There is room for us all. Unfortunately, the task of conquering the process of proving our own existence has eluded the Duwamish despite our long history dating back thousands of years.

Chief Seattle’s Duwamish people were friendly to the first pioneers and city fathers. We sacrificed our land to make the City of Seattle a beautiful reality. We are still waiting for our justice.

The Duwamish Tribe completed the first regulations and endured the long, long, long waiting period receiving (2) preliminary negative determinations over the years. Finally, we succeeded and were recognized by the Clinton Administration in 2001, to only have it taken away by President Bush eight months later. Under this appeal process, we have again been denied our rightful place in the history of Seattle. Is all complete in the business of the total genocide of the Duwamish People ~ the people of Chief Sealth for whom our great city is named?


The Duwamish also announced that they’d be holding a press conference related to the decision at their Longhouse.

In the meantime, here are three things to know about the Duwamish and federal recognition:

1. The federal government denied the Duwamish recognition based on seven criteria, three of which the government says the Duwamish did not meet. So, to clarify: In order for a group of people who had populated what we now call Seattle for thousands of years to be seen as authentic enough by a government that has only existed for a few centuries, the burden has been placed on indigenous communities to “prove” how Indian they are.

Criterion 83.7(a), for example, requires that the tribe be identified by “outside observers” on a continual basis since 1855. I called up University of British Columbia historian Coll Thrush to understand more fully what that, and the other criteria, meant. “If white people don’t think these are Native people, then that matters,” he explained, “which is a pretty biased criterion.”

2. The other two criteria dinged the Duwamish for not maintaining a “distinct community” since first contact with non-Indians and not maintaining “identified leaders” before 1939.

3. There are several reasons why it may have been pretty difficult to maintain “distinct community” after first contact with settlers in Seattle or after 1855. Here are just a handful:

• Seattle’s early leadership, a “Board of Trustees,” passed a law in 1865 mandating the removal of Native Americans from the city.

• In 1866, Congressman Arthur Denny fought against establishing a Duwamish reservation.

• “There was a proposed Duwamish reservation in Tukwila and basically every white man in King County signed a petition against that, so it was never ratified or established,” Thrush said. Business leaders like sawmill-owner Henry Yesler also made statements against a Duwamish reservation. “[A reservation] would have taken a chunk of land out of the jurisdiction of white landowners and put it in the jurisdiction of the federal government,” Thrush added. “There are these series of moments in the 19th century that work against the Duwamish as a distinct community.”

• White settlers burned down Duwamish longhouses. The last one was destroyed in 1893.

• In 1916, Seattleites lowered the level of Lake Washington to build the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which drained the Black River. The Duwamish had lived and fished on the Black River for at least a millennium. An account of that day from one Duwamish descendant interviewed at the time described the disappearance of the Black River as “quite a day for white people at least. The waters just went down, down, until our landing and canoes stood dry and there was no Black River at all. There were pools, of course, and the struggling fish trapped in them. People came from miles around, laughing and hollering and stuffing fish into gunny sacks.” Because of that, according to Thrush’s book, Native Seattle, Seattle settlers had “dramatically reduced the utility—and habitability—of that landscape for indigenous people.”

Despite all of these attempts to erase the Duwamish people from Seattle—including a diaspora created by the very government that is now penalizing the tribe for having a diaspora—they’re still here today. The BIA also found that the Duwamish did meet the last four criteria, one of which is the fact that 99 percent of the tribe has already proved their ancestry to the pre-1880 Duwamish.

Chief Si’ahl (top photo)

 “This we know; The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.  This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  All things are connected”

–Chief Si’ahl, Namesake of the City of Seattle

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