Culture Today

"Duwamish" is the Anglo-Europeanized word which meant "people of the inside", dxʷdəwʔabš. This was referencing where the people lived, in the interior on the Duwamish, Black and Cedar rivers. There were distinct groups of people living in and around the Puget Sound area. The Inside People, Saltwater People, River People, and Lake People. Although these groups of people shared a single language, other parts of their cultures remained distinct to them such as particular foods and canoe styles. Once traders and settlers became common place, these groups or bands came together and called themselves Duwamish.

The Home

Traditionally the home has it's own life. This life impacts us in our daily life and responsibilities. This is a sacred place which gives us security. This place is where we get our balance and must contain good energy to maintain our spiritual, pyhsical, and mental health.

Villages usually contained extended family units, while each dwelling contained one family unit. During winter these would be cedar planked houses with one open area, divided by mats for each sub-family unit. Many times houses were close together due to close family bonding and strength in numbers idealogy*. Other houses were specifically built for potlatches, and were a reflection of wealth and community strength.

The hub of Duwamish culture evolves around the home. Traditionally, Duwamish lived in extended family units. One unit would live in one home. During the winter months, Duwamish lived in cedar planked homes that ranged in size, depending upon the number of its inhabitants. The homes were one big open area, divided by mats for each sub-family unit. This type of close living provided bonding and security for the family. What the people called themselves related to the place name where the house existed. In many "winter" village locations, multiple homes where recorded to have been constructed, meaning multiple family units chose to live in close proximity to each other because of family ties between the homes, community strength, and protection. Other houses were often built just for the sole purpose of conducting potlatches and other ceremonial gatherings. The use of a home in this fashion, usually was a reflection upon the wealth and strength of the community.

Upon the arrival of spring and warmer weather, families would often divide, leaving the winter villages by canoe in order to hunt, fish, gather, visit relations and trade. The dwellings constructed during this time of the year consisted of mats used as walls like a tent, and planks taken from the winter village.

The Language

Lushootseed is the ancestral language of the Duwamish. It is spoken throughout the Puget Sound region and is one of several languages of the Salish family.

Oral History

Through Oral history we learn a historical view that gives people a foundation for making healthy decisions for themselves and their communities

Our Stories

The stories of the Puget Sound people contain traditional teachings of proper conduct and protocol. These teachings are the wealth of our communities. Without them, we are thought to be bound in a state of psychological poverty. Elements of generosity and kindness are reinforced with ethics of hard work and good health all things that bind us as a community.


What we put into our bodies affects how we feel, think, and act. The traditional foods of this area gave the Puget Sound First People a diet that enhanced their lives. It was not unusual for people to live to 100 years of age. The main source of foods for the Duwamish was from the water. This included salmon, fish, shellfish, ducks and other saltwater animals. Other sources of meat were deer, elk, bear and rabbit. Vegetables ranged from sprouts and roots to nuts, while fruits were berries and crabapple. In combination with stories, history and language, Duwamish people learn what makes a traditional diet essential for good health.


Potlatches are one of the traditional ways of practicing the power of giving. They bind inter-tribal communities as one. Potlatches raise the awareness of our heritage and honor the poor, the elderly, the children, the leaders and all of our loved ones. They help us make personal, family and tribal decisions and practices public. This is how in our communities we make such things as names, marriages, birthdays and songs real or 'legal'. Potlatches give us the opportunity to practice our spiritual beliefs, share food and singing and dancing ancestral songs, thereby reestablishing our connection with our past and our future.


All Duwamish homes were traditionally located along the shores of water, whether it be lakes, rivers or saltwater. Not only was water a major source for food, but it was also the main source of travel. Canoes were the vehicle in which people ventured for hunting, fishing, gathering, visiting and trade. Canoes were considered a home on the water. The same rules of proper conduct that existed in a home also existed in the canoe.

There were a total of seven different types of canoes, depending upon use. River canoes were rounded at both ends so that the currents of a river would not jerk the canoe about. Hunting canoes were good for lakes and calm waters. They were thin and made for speed. Certain canoes were made for transporting belongings. Other canoes had high bows and sharp ends to cut through waves found in saltwater. In recent years the racing canoe has evolved for sport and competition.

Weaving and Basketry

Weaving was a skill that developed essential implements used in every day life. Whether it be blankets and clothes to keep us warm and protected from the elements, or baskets that were used for multiple purposes, weaving was a skill that was an admired art by all. Weaving entails gathering our natural materials, which ties us to nature. Nature is our life force, which without, we could not survive.


Like weaving, carving is another essential skill that was used for creating implements used for everyday life. Carving was used for the construction of traditional homes and canoes. Carving created implements for cooking, storage, hunting and fishing. Carving requires skill and strength.


Physical, mental and spiritual well being is a central aspect of Duwamish traditional life. In order to have a strong community, we must have strong people who can contribute to their community. In order to have strong people, we must have people that can take care of and heal themselves. This is the simple definition of an adult.

One form of traditional good health and healing, is the use of herbal medicines. Within the Pacific Northwest, there are hundreds of herbs for different uses. We use healing through plants, to expose them to the mind frame of taking the responsibility of self preservation and good health.

Song and Dance

There is no word in Lushootseed for the word "love." Love was traditionally expressed through good thoughts, kind words and charitable actions. Songs are a way for us to express love in this form. Songs can give us strength and blessings. Songs can express prayers and feelings that no words can describe. Many songs have been passed down to us by our ancestors. Many songs involve dancing. Through dance we can express songs in a way that gives life to the meaning of a song in a visual context. A dance reenacts the words and feelings of the song. The dancer dances the song, while the singer sings the dancer. The drum is a traditional instrument of the Duwamish. The beat of the drum expresses the rhythms of life. The drumbeat is the heartbeat of the First People.