Cowlitz federal recognition temporarily blocked by Quinault


LONGVIEW, Wash. - The Cowlitz tribe's 25-year bid for federal recognition has been temporarily bogged down by an appeal for reconsideration to the federal Interior Board of Indian Appeals by the Quinault Indian Nation.

With one day to go before the 90-day period of appeal expired, the Quinault Nation's attorney, Richard Reich, submitted a report asking the IBIA to reconsider the Feb. 14 decision by U.S. Assistant Interior Secretary Kevin Gover to recognize the tribe. The appeal was based in the argument that a "substantial portion" of the evidence relied upon by the assistant secretary in his determination was "unreliable or of little probative value." The appeal also states that the bureau's, as well as the Cowlitz tribe's, research was incomplete.

The appeal came as no surprise to Cowlitz representatives who say the Quinault Nation has opposed Cowlitz and other coastal tribes' recognition for years.

"It's a political issue," says Cowlitz general council chairman John Barnett. "The Quinault feel that if we get recognized then we will probably exert authority over some of the jurisdictional issues on the reservation."

In the appeal, the Quinault state that Cowlitz members petitioning for recognition are not descended from the same group that participated in treaty proceedings with Gov. Isaac Stevens in 1855. Information from the tribe states the Quinault believe the current Cowlitz petitioners are composed of descendants of Hudson Bay Co. employees and Cowlitz and non-Cowlitz Indian women who settled on the Cowlitz Prairie, not descendants of the original Lower Cowlitz tribe.

Stephen Becham, Cowlitz tribal historian and history professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., said none of the submitted material is new - even though the basic requirement for an appeal for reconsideration by the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research is that new evidence be made available.

"This matter is one of unconscionable delays, obstructionist action, repetitive presentation of the same argument and duplicative and triplicative presentation of the same documents," Becham said. "And this has meant deferral for yet more and more years, of any delivery of BIA services or management funds, technical assistance, planning, housing assistance and health for the Cowlitz people.

"The Cowlitz are a wonderfully well documented, historic tribe," he says. "Every current Cowlitz member is descended from an aboriginal Cowlitz except members of one family. And, that one family was affiliated with the tribe prior to the Chehalis River Treaty council in February/March 1855."

Representatives of the Cowlitz say the Quinault Nation's move to block federal recognition is not substantive, but rather springs from insecurity about the potential jurisdictional authority affiliated tribal members who hold a majority of allotments on the Quinault Reservation might wield if recognized.

Of the eight tribes with allotments held in trust by the U.S. government on the Quinault Reservation, the Quinault Tribe holds the minority.

A settlement offer submitted to Cowlitz tribal attorney Dennis Whittlesey on April 21 by the Quinault Nation validates this position. The letter states that the Quinault Nation would consider withholding or withdrawing its petition for reconsideration if the Cowlitz Tribe would be willing to enter into a "binding agreement disclaiming assertions of tribal rights or interests in the Quinault Reservation."

Pearl Copoeman-Baller, president of the Quinault Tribal Council, admits that it is Cowlitz insistence that they have treaty rights on the Quinault Reservation that is at the heart of the dispute.

"We're not opposing their petition for recognition," she says. "We are opposing some of their claims in their petition.

"There are several different individual tribal members that own land on the Quinault Reservation. It's an allotted reservation. But the reservation is for the enrolled adults of Quinault Nation. That's been affirmed and reaffirmed by Congress and by court orders. ... if they're enrolled Quinault they have treaty rights. But if they're not, they don't."

For numerous reasons, the Cowlitz say they are unwilling to disclaim any rights or interests in the reservation. Barnett said first and foremost is the fact that the Cowlitz Tribal Council has no right to interfere with - or jeopardize - the private interests of the hundreds of Cowlitz members who hold allotments on the Quinault Reservation.

Equally important from the Cowlitz point of view is that the tribe believes its federal status is, in part, determined by the rights the tribe has on the Quinault Reservation.

"The essence of federal status for the Cowlitz Tribe is, in part, the product of the Supreme Court's finding that this tribe has rights at the reservation in Halbert vs. the United States in 1931," states Cowlitz attorney Whittlesey. "Those are rights which are at the heart of the reserve rights process under the Treaty of Olympia. Those are rights that can only be held by a federally recognized Indian tribe.

"So the request that the Cowlitz abrogate those rights is really a request that they abrogate one of the foundations upon which their entitlements to be federally recognized are built. And of course we wouldn't do that."

A long dispute

The whole issue goes back to 1855 when the Quinault, the Quileute, Hoh, Queets, Chehalis, Cowlitz, Chinook and Shoalwater Bay tribes, identified as the "fish-eating tribes of the Pacific coast," met with Gov. Stevens in treaty negotiations near the town of Cosmopolis.

In the midst of negotiations, it became apparent that Stevens intended for all of the tribes to move from their homelands and share a reservation within the traditional lands of the Quinault. At that point the Chehalis, Cowlitz and Chinook tribal representatives left the council and treaty negotiations fell apart.

Gov. Stevens managed to finalize negotiations the following year at a council near the Quinault River, thus establishing the 10,000 acre Quinault Reservation. Although the Quinault and Quileute nations were the only signatories, Article 6 of the Quinault River Treaty made provisions for the other tribes, stating that the president of the United States "may consolidate them (Quinault and Quileute) with other friendly tribes ... and he may further, at his discretion, cause the whole or any portion of the lands to be reserved ... surveyed into lots, and assign the same to such individuals or families as are willing to avail themselves of the privilege."

For a short time, the Cowlitz continued to live, hunt and fish where they always had. But ever-increasing population pressure from settlers eventually created problems.

Disturbed by the reluctance of the remaining tribes - including the Cowlitz - to relocate to the Quinault Reservation, President Ulysses S. Grant decided to up the ante and expand the existing Quinault Reservation to make room for the additional tribes.

In 1873, an Executive Order expanded the Quinault Reservation to almost 200,000 acres, including the original 10,000 acres granted to the Quinault in the treaty of 1855. Between 1911 and 1934, the additional 186,000 acres added to the Quinault Reservation for members of other "fish eating tribes" tribes of Washington, were legally allotted to individuals from all the tribes recognized by the U.S. government as having an interest in the reservation.

Cowlitz allotments eventually constituted approximately 16 percent of the total 196,000 acres of the Quinault Reservation. Chinook allotments registered by far the majority with approximately 54 percent. Quinault allotments totaled approximately 6 percent. The majority vote fell squarely in the hands of the affiliated tribes and the off-reservation allotees.

When the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934, the eight Quinault Reservation tribes - with the Quinault opposing - voted for confederation.

Cowlitz historian Becham said the Quinault members who lived on-reservation were furious at the outcome of the vote. They did not want IRA because they did not want a confederated tribal government. What happened next is puzzling, he says.

"Fewer than 700 people effectively persuaded the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ignore the vote. And thus to this day, the Bureau of Indian Affairs deals exclusively with the Quinault business committee as the governing body of the reservation. And yet the Quinault Tribe owns a mere fraction of the lands on that reservation."

Having a say-so

Soon the Quinault Nation will be facing a two-pronged threat - final determination for federal recognition for the Chinook Tribe is scheduled for next month, and the Chinook, like the Cowlitz, are seeking recognition and substantiation of their treaty rights in the Quinault Reservation.

Reiche, the Quinault attorney, says the tribe will oppose Chinook recognition as well.

The Cowlitz general council chairman says the ongoing efforts by the Quinault to disenfranchise other Indian nations is disheartening.

"It's a sad state of affairs when something that's supposed to be an honest and above-board process gets muddy in politics," Barnett says. "The Quinault have claimed exclusive jurisdiction on reservation. Four cases, two Supreme Court decisions and one Indian court claims decision say ... the reservation belongs to eight tribes.

"When you have the same rights and privileges, that should mean that you should have some say-so. For instance, I personally have trust land on the reservation as a result of allotments I inherited from my father. And I have no say-so about that. The only people that have anything to say about it are the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Quinault Tribe who work hand-in-hand with the Bureau of Indian affairs to supervise what happens on the reservation as far as land-use policies, forestry policies, everything.

"The only thing I can do with my land is sign a power of attorney to allow the Bureau of Indian Affairs to sell my timber. Period. So this is where the rub is. ... The Cowlitz people, they don't want to move to Tahola. All they want is ... their people who have allotments to have a say-so in their own property."