Chinook recognition faces reversal under McCaleb
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When former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover in January recognized the Chinook Nation of Washington, he ignored bureau policy, made mistakes and did not fully evaluate the evidence on the record, Bureau of Indian Affairs researchers have told Secretary of Interior Gale Norton.

Gover's January decision is a "departure from precedent" and has created "obvious conflicts" among prior recognition decisions, researchers assert in a letter sent to their boss. There are "valid grounds for reconsideration" of the Chinook decision and Norton should ask her Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb to review the entire matter, they said.

Should Norton agree, she should refer seven issues to McCaleb for "review and full explanation," recommended the Bureau of Acknowledgment and Research, the staff which handles all federal recognition petitions. "[T]here are likely to be other internal discrepancies, omissions, and errors" in Gover's decision, and the staff would like more time to review the document, added BAR chief R. Lee Fleming.

Facing a November 6 deadline on the issue, Norton now has a tough decision to make. Her first official visit outside of Washington, DC, brought her face-to-face with the Chinook Nation, whose bid to gain federal recognition was at first rejected by the BIA.

At the time of her March trip, Norton had rebuffed a request by the Quinault Nation, a federally recognized tribe, to pull back the Chinook decision. The Quinault could challenge the matter before the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, she said.

Not one to back down from a fight -- the Quinault had already successfully delayed the Cowlitz recognition -- lawyers for the tribe have now done the same for the Chinook. By raising a number of issues that go to the heart of Gover's decision, the Chinook Nation now faces a dramatic reversal of their recent good fortune.

Among the issues raised:
  • Without explanation, Gover evaluated the Chinook petition under a revised set of regulations that may not have applied.
  • Creating conflicts, Gover viewed three federal laws contrary to "longstanding" interpretation.
  • Against precedent, Gover allowed a "subgroup" of the Chinook to demonstrate the group as a whole satisfied recognition criteria.

McCaleb has already shown an indication to rely on the recommendations of his staff. If he agrees to consider even one of the issues the staff sees fit for review, the Chinook decision could be overturned.

The Chinook and Quinault have until October 9 to respond to the BAR's recommendation before the dispute goes on to Norton.

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

Relevant Links:
Branch of Acknowledgment and Research -

Related Stories:
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)