Chinooks' recognition delayed again

SEATTLE ? The Chinook Nation of Washington must wait at least four more months before learning whether the tribe will be granted federal recognition.

Assistant Interior Secretary Neal McCaleb recently requested a 120?day extension on his time frame within which to decide on the tribe's request. That request was granted on March 6. The decision had been due this week; its delay brings greater attention to what many believe is a flawed and inefficient tribal recognition process.

"I don't know what [Interior's] intentions are," said Gary Johnson, tribal Chairman, when asked whether the delay might affect the tribe's chances for recognition. "We strongly believe in the 1925 constructive ratification in our treaty by both houses of Congress.

"We feel we've always been a recognized tribe," Johnson told ICT. "We've always received services from BIA. It's bewildering ... we work on a daily basis with all kinds of state and federal agencies. Our office is kept open by a federal grant."

In 1997, former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Gover originally found insufficient grounds to grant the tribe formal recognition. Upon further review, however, Gover reversed himself, declaring that the Chinook tribe met all required criteria mandated under both the 1978 and 1994 recognition regulations. Gover's signing of the final determination was his last official act as Secretary.

An administrative court, to which the recognition decision was appealed, eventually upheld Gover's ruling. The court eventually upheld recognition, but tasked incoming Interior Secretary Gale Norton to reconsider certain issues. Norton delegated the review to McCaleb, who on Feb. 26 asked for more time.

The Chinook "are feeling good about" the wide range of support from the Congressional and Senate delegations from both Washington and Oregon, as well as "from tribes across the country and the Lewis and Clark bicentennial group," Johnson said. "We just feel somebody needs to listen. It's difficult to have somebody making a decision who's never been out here to meet with us.

"It's frustrating that we aren't able to move forward in terms of health care and housing and [other] areas that could really benefit the Chinook people," Johnson continued. "That process dragging out is keeping us from providing services."

Federal recognition brings eligibility for funding to support things like medical care, schools, social services. Recognition also provides the authorization to negotiate potentially lucrative gaming compacts with state governments.

The 2,000-member tribe is located primarily in southwestern Washington State. The Chinook, who initiated the petition for recognition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1979, are descendants of natives who sheltered Meriwether Lewis and William Clark after the explorers reached the mouth of the Columbia River and the shores of the Pacific Ocean in late 1805. Bicentennial celebrations of the expedition begin next year.