Chinook Nation pushes for recognition
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Allowing the Chinook Nation's federal recognition to be reviewed would only give government researchers a chance to get back at a tribe it "hates," a lawyer has told Secretary of Interior Gale Norton.

Reconsidering the decision would also be unfair to former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover, attorney Dennis Whittlesey wrote on Tuesday. Researchers have taken a "cheap shot" against the Chinook and Gover, he argued, and should not be given a chance to challenge the tribe's status.

"A referral to BAR truly would amount to sending the hens back into the henhouse for 'further inspection' by the foxes," Whittlesey warns of the dozen or so researchers, genealogists, anthropologists and historians who are charged with evaluating groups seeking federal recognition.

Faced with a potential reversal of Gover's decision, the Washington tribe is at a critical point in its storied, tumultuous history. The first tribe to welcome explorers Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Northwest, the Chinook Nation has long been disavowed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

That changed when Gover reversed a preliminary finding made by his predecessor Ada Deer in 1997. On his last day in office in January, he welcomed the tribe back into "the family of tribal nations."

But the Quinault Nation, a federally-recognized tribe in Washington, has not extended a warm greeting. After Norton refused to rescind the decision, the tribe successfully challenged it before a BIA review board.

Now, the Chinook faces a November 6 deadline to hear from Norton on a potential reconsideration. To chairman Gary Johnson, doing anything but reaffirming the federal status would be an injustice in the tribe's 23-year-long quest for recognition.

"We've done an awful lot of waiting," Johnson said yesterday. "The entire BAR process has been . . . frustration."

While he said he can't speak directly to feelings of the BIA staff, Johnson said various tribes and governments have been supportive. Tribal leaders are being encouraged to take a "key role" in the upcoming bicentennial commemoration of Lewis and Clark's journey, he said.

"We're just amazed," Johnson said of the help the tribe has received.

Although BIA researchers have raised key issues that go to the heart of Gover's decision, Johnson points to numerous court decisions, executive orders and other federal government actions as evidence for his tribe's status. Chinook ancestors made a treaty with the United States in 1855, he noted, and the Quinault Reservation was expanded later for tribal members who were encouraged to remove to land far away from their traditional base.

The effect, while providing some members with land and government benefits, pushed many Chinook out of traditional territory along the lower Columbia River, said Johnson. But, he added, "we already have a strong Indian community here."

With federal recognition, Johnson said the tribe hopes draw displaced members back to the Chinook homeland.

"For our tribal survival, we need federal recognition," he said, "so that some of those people can move home and have equal opportunity for health care, education jobs, and social services."

"We have always been a tribe."

The BIA yesterday had no immediate comment on the Chinook's response to the issues staff raised in a September letter sent to Norton. Should Norton agree with the staff and the Quinault Nation, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb would review the decision.

Get Chinook Documents:
Kevin Gover Statement (1/3) | Final Determination (1/22) | Proposed Finding (1997)

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research -

Related Stories:
Chinook Nation faces reversal (10/3)
McCaleb reverses Clinton recognitions (9/28)
McCaleb to listen 'closely' to recognition experts (8/9)
McCaleb decision sure to draw scrutiny (7/31)
BIA pushed to provide 'answers' on recognition (7/26)
BIA has small goal for big problem (5/22)
Norton won't review Chinook recognition (3/20)
Chinook Nation eager to tell story (3/2)
Gover reverses Chinook decision (1/04)

Blasts from the Past - Indianz.Com Recognition Classics:
Recognition findings a departure (8/16)
Decisions put Gover in the middle (08/16)
Gover wants BIA out of nastiness (05/25)
Town: Gover a 'mockery' (5/25)