For two native tribes dwelling on opposite ends of Puget Sound, a struggle for recognition from the US government hinders their ability to be politically seen and heard. In Promised Land, tribal council members and chairmen from the Duwamish and Chinook Nations chronicle their peoples’ history and the complexity of navigating the process for tribal recognition.
Through dozens of interviews with tribal members, historians, and archaeologist allies, Promised Land provides an in-depth, harrowing overview of why recognition for these tribes has been repeatedly denied—a narrative that’s shared by hundreds of indigenous groups in the US and beyond.
Reverend John Norwood, a Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal councilman and judge, explains how studies in the late 1970s revealed atrocious rates of denial—with only 17 tribes out of an estimated 200 applicants granted recognition. “The process had become so expensive, prohibitive, invasive, humiliating, dehumanizing,” he says in Promised Land, “that many worthy tribes were to a point that they didn’t feel that they could go through the process because they could not afford representation.”
Promised Land finds the fight for tribal recognition that goes beyond a claim to identity—it also speaks to the larger story of erasure, and to the United States’ disregard for centuries-old, legally binding treaties. “For people to think that tribes are trying to milk the government or be dependent on the government, it’s a lack of awareness that they have considering the treaties, and again, the millions of acres the tribes gave,” says the Quinault Indian Nation’s Brenda Rhoades.
The Chinook and Duwamish have thrived by maintaining their cultural traditions despite the rampant development of their land, but are still seeking support in their journey towards sovereignty. Promised Land screens as part of the Portland EcoFilm Festival; the screening, which benefits the Chinook Indian Nation’s legal fund, will also feature a panel with representatives from the Chinook Indian Nation and local environmental conservation groups.