Honoring Indigenous Peoples in Seattle

Why Visit Seattle has become more vocal about honoring its Indigenous communities and heritage.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Chief Seattle

A sculpture of Chief Seattle, hereditary chief of the Suquamish people and after whom the city was named, sits in Pioneer Square. Artist James A. Wehn created the bronze bust in 1909. (David Newman photo)

On Monday, Oct. 11, Seattle, Washington, celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day — the Seattle City Council voted to rename Columbus Day in honor of Indigenous people in 2014, and the state of Washington voted to do the same in 2020.

And every day of the year, visitors to the Visit Seattle website now will find a formal reminder that Seattle is built on native land and its residents “live and work on the unceded, traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples, whose ancestors have lived here and cared for these lands and waters since time immemorial.”

Acknowledging the land and Seattle’s native heritage is not new for the city, said Tom Norwalk, President & CEO of Visit Seattle, when asked about the addition of the land acknowledgement to the website. Visit Seattle has long recognized its native heritage through cultural components or land acknowledgements at the organization’s annual meetings, he said. “But I think over the last couple of years as everything has changed dramatically — and I would say our industry, our organization, our city, was awakened as everybody was, last May — we really felt that we need to be much more forward about it because we have, and the nation has, a rich native heritage, obviously.”

Seattle and thePacific Northwest, “all up and down the coast and certainly up into Alaska, the entire Salish Sea area as we call it, is really, really rich in that cultural heritage,” Norwalk added. “And so we just didn’t want to not bring that up. We work with a number of different tribes. We try to promote everything we can that makes sense, certainly from a visitation leisure-travel standpoint. But it just was really a part of our trying to grow and be better and maybe be more vocal where we haven’t been before.”

Visit Seattle also committed to “asking, introducing, and encouraging thoughtfulness in this sphere from incoming groups,” said Kauilani Robinson, public relations director for Visit Seattle, and has worked with meeting organizers to create land acknowledgements, including for the People of Color conference, which met in Seattle in 2019.

The recognition “does not take the place of authentic relationships with Indigenous communities but serves as a first step in honoring the land we are on,” the land acknowledgement concludes. “The communities are still here, and many indigenous people are strong and thriving. We honor the people past and present who belong to this place.”

Find resources including information about Seattle’s Native-owned businesses, guides to Indigenous cultural and arts events; a map of public art by Native American artists; and a list of suggested readings, at Visit Seattle’s Support for Seattle’s Indigenous Community page.

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.