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Urban Indians and Seattle's Civil Rights History

This page is a guide to the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project resources for exploring the civil rights activism of Urban Indians in the Pacific Northwest. They include activist oral histories, research reports, newspaper reports, photographic collections, historical documents,

Activist Oral Histories Click to learn more about these activists and watch video excerpts of their oral history interviews.

Bennett, Ramona

A Puyallup, Ramona Bennett has been pioneering activist on behalf of Indian rights since joining the American Indian Women's Service league in the 1950s. In 1964 she co-founded the Survival of American Indians Association. In 1971, she was elected Puyallup Tribal Chairwoman, becoming one of the first women to lead a tribe. She was one of the principal authors of the Indian Child Welfare Act passed by Congress in 1978.

Bill, Willard

A member of the Muckleshoot tribe, Willard Bill has spent forty years providing educational services to Native peoples and non Indians in Washington state. He has taught at the University of Washington, where he helped develop the Office of Minority Affairs. He worked for the State Department of Education and the Seattle Community College District. He is currently Muckleshoot tribal historian.

Lewis, Randy

Born on the Colville Reservation, Randy Lewis attended Western Washington College in the 1960s where he helped found the American Indian Student Union. After participating in the Alcatraz occupation in 1969, he joined Bernie Whitebear in organizing the Ft. Lawton takeover in 1970s. He is a longtime member of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.

Paul, Blair

Born in Alaska and a member of the Tlingit nation, Blair Paul earned a law degree at the University of Washington and went to work in 1969 for the Seattle Human Rights Department on behalf of urban Indians. During the Ft. Lawton takeover, he provided logistical and legal support and was a founding board member of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.

Raymond, Jeanne

A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Jeanne Raymond moved to Washington in her teens, attended Western Washington College and then graduate school at the University of Washington. She helped pioneer American Indian Studies at Seattle Community College and then co-founded Seattle's American Indian Heritage High School.

Reyes, Lawney

A renowned artist and architect, Lawney Reyes grew up on the Colville Reservation. With his brother, Bernie Whitebear, and sister, Luana Reyes, he helped promote Indian activism in Seattle, including the takeover of Ft. Lawton. Part of the architect team that designed Daybreak Star Cultural Center, Reyes has also written two books about his family.

Research Reports

Bernie Whitebear and the Urban Indian Fight for Land and Justice byJoseph Madsen

The inspriational leader of the 1970 Fort Lawton takeover and the campaign to build Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, Bernie Whitebear dedicated his life to urban indian activism. Born on the Colville Reservation, he joined fish-in protests in the 1950s, worked to develop Indian social services in the 1960s, then led the United Indians of All Tribes in their historic fight to reclaim Native land in Seattle.

The Fish-in Protests at Frank’s Landing by Gabriel Chrisman

The fish-ins of the 1960s were to Native Americans what sit-ins were to the Black civil rights movement. Native activists defied state authorities, suffering arrest and jail time in order to reclaim fishing rights guaranteed in the treaties of the 1850s. In 1974, the federal courts finally recognized their rights. This prize-winning essay examines the historic campaign.

By Right of Discovery: United Indians of All Tribes Retakes Fort Lawton, 1970 by Lossom Allen

In the early morning hours of March 8, 1970, members of the United Indians of All Tribes jumped the barbed wire fences of Fort Lawton and reclaimed the soon-to-be-decommissioned military base as land that belonged to Native peoples. Thus began an 18 month long struggle that resulted in the establishment of Daybreak Star Cultural Center, one of the first urban Indian cultural centers in the United States.

United Indians of All Tribes Meets the Press: News Coverage of the 1970 Occupation of Fort Lawton by Karen Smith

The invasion of Fort Lawton set off a frenzy of media coverage. Intrigued by the militant action, the major newspapers mixed condescension with mild sympathy while reinscribing old stereotypes. Smaller newspapers took stronger positions. American Indian publications were also divided. This essay analyzes the press coverage, finding fascinating differences of perspective, while arguing that the volume of press coverage was an important breakthrough for Native politics.

American Indian Women’s Service League: Raising the Cause of Urban Indians, 1958-71 by Karen Smith

Founded in 1958 by Pearl Warren and seven other Native women, The American Indian Women’s Service League proved a pivotal institution for Seattle’s growing urban Indian population. In 1960, the group opened the Indian Cultural Center which provided social and health services, taught Native cultural awareness, and laid the foundation for the political activism of young urban Indians in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Indian Civil Rights Hearings: U.S. Civil Rights Commi****ssion Comes to Seattle, 1977 by Laurie Johnstonbaugh

In October 1977, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission began two days of hearings in Seattle. The hearings were in response to mounting tension between local government and business interests and Native American communities over the issue of tribal sovereignty. This article explores the backlash campaign that followed the 1974 Boldt fishing rights decision and the Civil Rights Commission’s effort to sort out the controversy.

Newspaper Reports

Published in Hoquiam and distributed throughout Washington and beyond, The Real American was a well-written and lively weekly that mixed local tribal news with coverage of national issues important to Indians. Editor Hugh Howell and a staff of young Northwest Indians preached pan-Indianism while also serving up large spreads about beauty contests and other entertainment.

The Quileute Independent began publication in 1908 in La Push, Washington. Its editor, W.H. Hudson was a member of the Quileute tribe who had attended Chemawa Indian School, near Salem, Oregon. The next year the newspaper changed its name to the Quileute Chieftainwith Hudson continuing as editor. Six issues of the combined newspaper are available on microfilm at the University of Washington Library

Maps of residential patterns

Document collections

Other resources and links