If you’re a renter, every month you pay a certain amount (in Seattle, a large amount) to your landlord in order to be able to live on the property that they own. But what about paying rent to the original owners of the land—Native Americans—specifically the Duwamish, the first people of Seattle (a city which is named after Suquamish-Duwamish Chief Sealth)?
That’s the question that one new campaign, called Real Rent Duwamish, is asking Seattleites to think about. Since launching on Indigenous People’s Day a couple of weeks ago, the project has gained 121 monthly Real Renters, whose average monthly average donation is $28.
Real Rent is organized by a group of volunteers called the Duwamish Solidarity Group, who are part of the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW), a Seattle-based group of white people “working to undo institutional racism and white privilege” by educating white communities around them and supporting the work of people of color led organizations.
The organizers of the Real Rent Duwamish project say they understand why some people, especially indigenous people, would be wary of a project benefitting a Native tribe that is run by whites. Since part of the MO of CARW is to organize around the leadership and initiative of people of color led groups, the group says they wouldn’t do anything without the Tribe’s permission and input—and that the project is a direct response to an ask for financial support by the Duwamish Tribal Council.
“Our group has been working on this project for several years while being in regular conversation with the Tribal Council and Tribal Services Board as we moved forward,” they wrote in an email to the Stranger.
According to the Duwamish Solidarity Group, the money donated by Real Renters goes directly to the Duwamish Tribal Services account once a month. Representatives of the Duwamish could not be reached for comment, however, a public Facebook comment by Jolene Haas, daughter of Duwamish Tribal Chairwoman Cecile Hansen, confirmed that all proceeds go directly to the Duwamish.
Although the Duwamish Solidarity Group said they frequently check in with tribal leadership about the language used around the project and other details, they do not interfere with how the tribe chooses to use the funds that are raised:
We believe that these funds belong to the Tribe to use as they see fit, so we did not create Real Rent with the intention of asking the Tribe to be accountable to us about exactly where each penny goes. No one asks their landlord what they do with the money, right?
The Duwamish, who were denied federal recognition for their tribe in 2015, can’t receive many of the rights and economic benefits that other tribes do, like being protected by treaty rights. For example, it took 120 years for the Tribe to finally get paid for the land they ceded—1,000 members of the Tribe received a whopping $64 each—which is one of the reasons the Real Rent Duwamish project was started.
But the volunteers behind Real Rent Duwamish wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as a ‘reparations’ project—in which one group of people helps another group of people with financial support to make amends for past and continuing harms.
“The goal of Real Rent isn’t to right past wrongs of such gigantic proportion, but rather to acknowledge through monthly ‘rent’ that the Duwamish are still here, and that this is their ancestral land to which they still have rights.”