PORTLAND, Ore. - When the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived on the Lower
Columbia 200 years ago, members initially encountered the Chinooks on the
north side of the river. Rather than wintering with the commercially-minded
tribe that demanded higher prices for food and furs than the explorers
wanted to pay, members of the expedition voted to establish their
headquarters on the south side of the river where the Clatsop people
controlled the territory.
This legacy forms a natural link to today's Confederated Tribes of the
Clatsop-Nehalem, a 200-member group only recently organized. "Many of us
enrolled with the Chinook tribe because we thought that was the only way to
get federal recognition," said Council Chairman of the Clatsop-Nehalems,
Joe Stovall. "But several years ago, after we studied the treaties, we
realized that the Clatsop-Nehalem had their own standing, separate from the
Chinook. Since then, we've been organizing ourselves and have received a
total of $50,000 in grant money as part of the Lewis and Clark
commemoration." The money which came from the National Park Service will be
used to build a longhouse on 20 acres of oceanfront land the
Clatsop-Nehalems secured in Tillamook Country as well as to collect tribal
oral histories and complete other research designed to flesh out the tribal
This development is anathema to the 2,300-member Chinook Nation that
organized in 1953. The tribe contends that the Clatsop is simply one of
five Chinook bands that it represents and any involvement should be under
the auspices of the Chinooks. According to the chairman of the Chinook
tribe, Gary Johnson, "The Chinook Nation is the long standing governmental
representation of the historic Clatsop tribe."
Johnson added, "The Chinook tribe is frustrated by developments that
undermine the status we have worked years to solidify. The Clatsop-Nehalem
have even received more grant money than we have, a development we consider
entirely inappropriate. Consequently, while we will be present at all the
events, we will not participate in activities where we are cast as equal
partners with the Clatsop-Nehalem. We do not want to do anything that will
legitimize the claims of the Clatsop-Nehalems."
Conversely, Joe Stovall, council chairman for Confederated Tribes of
Clatsop-Nehalem said, "We don't feel that we have a tie to the north side
of the Columbia River where the Chinooks are. Some of our people enrolled
with the Chinooks because they didn't know where else to turn. Now that we
are organizing, maybe that will change. We do not want to bring dishonor to
our ancestors, and we do not wish to behave in such a way that would cause
other Indians to be dishonored."
Stovall continued, "It has always been our wish to participate in the Lewis
and Clark activities with the Chinook. We don't look at ourselves in a
dominate way, and if we are invited to participate as host tribe, we want
it to be in an inclusive manner."
Bicentennial coordinators are holding 15 Signature Events across the
nation, each one timed to parallel entries in the Lewis and Clark journals.
On the Pacific Coast, the festivities will begin in November 2005 and end
March 2006. The effort to be historically accurate extends to involvement
of tribal peoples.
"There is a real push at the national level to make sure the tribal story
is included in the bicentennial the way the tribes themselves tell the
story," said Jan Mitchell, chairwoman of Destination Pacific, the group
coordinating events on the Lower Columbia.
According to Mitchell, Destination Pacific hopes to involve tribal people
in several ways: color guards for openings and closings of events as well
as dedications; panels of tribal groups speaking on current issues, and an
exposition where drum circles can perform and vendors can sell food and
crafts. "The celebration is still 20 months off," said Mitchell, "so our
committees are still in the planning process. Our hope, though, is that the
tribes we invite will participate."
Mitchell regrets the Chinook position and understands that the tribe is
concerned that Clatsop-Nehalem claims might undermine the Chinook's quest
for federal recognition. "We are sensitive to the Chinook's situation,"
said Mitchell, "but it's just not appropriate for our committee to exclude
any group. What we need to do is be inclusive. People have been excluded
for many years, now."