The Duwamish, a Northwest tribe, doesn't exist, according to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Since 1978, the tribe has been seeking federal recognition that would grant them control over their government and lands, make them eligible for federal funds for education, health care and social programs, and allow casino operations.
The 560 members of the tribe thought the matter was settled in January 2001, when a Clinton Interior Department appointee signed an order granting them tribal status. But in September 2001, the Bush administration reversed the Duwamish order because of a technical glitch: The outgoing Bureau of Indian Affairs director signed two of the three copies of the official notice after he had already left office. The Duwamish appealed the negative determination, but in early May, Norton declined to reconsider the decision.
Norton's May letter to the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs concludes that "further review is not likely to change the determination against acknowledging the Duwamish as an Indian tribe."
The tribe says this is unfair. It met all the criteria required for federal recognition - including proving its continuous existence from first contact with white settlers all the way to modern times.
The tribe is now seeking community and congressional support and plans to pursue legal recourse, but its future remains uncertain.
"They've become refugees on their own land," says Ken Tollefson, an anthropologist who has worked with the Duwamish since 1986. "The leaders are burning out, the researchers are dropping out, and the elders are dying out."