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BIA Recognizes Chinook

by Brian Stockes, Today staff Washington Bureau
Indian Country - January 17, 2001

WASHINGTON - In an attempt to correct wrongs it believed were committed in the past, the BIA, through its federal acknowledgement process, has formally recognized the Chinook Tribe of Washington state.

It further reaffirmed the federal government's trust relationship with the King Salmon and Shoonaq' Tribes in Alaska and the Lower Lake Rancheria in California.

The Chinook Tribe finally gained recognition after waiting more than 20 years and battling multiple rejections by the BIA. As recently as 1997, the tribe was turned down for acknowledgment. Despite this setback, the Chinook endured and submitted more documentation and paperwork for review.

Former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Kevin Gover, who signed the determination on his final day with Interior, said the decision to acknowledge the Chinook was based on a review and analysis of the existing record in light of the additional evidence.

"Opportunities such as this one are rare in government, and rare in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Interior," Gover said. "Today we have the opportunity to address directly a historical injustice lasting many years."

The final determination shows a review of the 1997 proposed finding and information submitted by the "Chinook Indian Tribe/Chinook Nation" and third parties established that the tribe had met all seven criteria from first contact to the present under the 1978 regulations on recognition. The determination also concludes the Chinook were acknowledged by Congress in 1925, thus meeting the 1994 regulations requiring that a petitioner demonstrate historical continuity for a period commencing from the time of previous acknowledgment to the present. The Chinook were therefore determined to have met the criteria under both the 1978 and 1994 regulations.

The Chinook along the Columbia River in eastern Washington have approximately 2,000 tribal members. Contact with the tribe dates as far back as Lewis and Clark, when the explorers reported seeing more than 900 Chinook Indians living in longhouses as they passed through the area in 1806. The tribe first treated with the United States in 1851. It notified the BIA of its intent to submit a petition for federal recognition in 1979, sparking more than 20 years of debate.

Now that the Chinook finally have recognition they plan to concentrate on restoring as much tribal tradition and culture as possible. Chairman Gary Johnson says that despite the refusal of the federal government to recognize the tribe, and its many struggles, members have maintained their core culture and traditions.

"This is a great day for the Chinook people," Johnson said. "Throw out the books that say the Chinook do not exist."

The final determination becomes effective 90 days after being published in the Federal Register.

The BIA reaffirmed the trust relationship with King Salmon Tribe, the Shonnaq' Tribe, and the Lower Lake Rancheria after what the BIA found were oversights in official records. Because of administrative error, the BIA for several years failed to place the three tribes on the list of federally recognized tribes it must publish annually in the Federal Register. The list entitled "Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible to Receive Services from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs" was last published on March 13, 2000.

"The King Salmon Tribe, The Shoonaq' Tribe of Kodiak, and the Lower Lake Rancheria have been officially overlooked for many years by the Bureau of Indian Affairs even though their government-to-government relationship with the United States was never terminated," said Kevin Gover. "I am pleased to correct this egregious oversight."

With the BIA's recent actions, the number of federally recognized Indian tribes now stands at 561, which also includes the Loyal Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and the Granton Rancheria in California, both recognized under the Omnibus Indian Advancement Act recently passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Brian Stockes, Today staff Washington Bureau
BIA Recognizes Chinook
Indian Country, January 17, 2001

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