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Cowlitz file motion with appeal board

LONGVIEW, Wash. - Cowlitz tribal attorneys have filed a motion with the Interior Department's Board of Indian Appeals in an attempt to recoup the millions of dollars in losses the tribe says it's sustaining because of the Quinault Nation appeal of federal recognition.

The motion requests the board to post a bond to cover loss of business income as well as loss of federal funding the tribe would have started receiving May 18 when its federal recognition would have been final.

Assistant Interior Secretary Kevin Grover signed an agreement formally recognizing the Cowlitz Tribe Feb. 14. The Quinault Nation filed a formal petition of reconsideration one day before the 90-day waiting period expired.

Cowlitz attorney Dennis Whittlesey says the Quinault should be required to bond their appeal to protect the Cowlitz against damages it will suffer through the delays because the appeal is based on "political and not substantive grounds."

"We've asked the IBIA to set a bond in an amount it deems appropriate," Whittlesey says, "and we have proposed that it should not be less than $50 million."

As proof of their claim the Quinault appeal for reconsideration is politically based, Whittlesey filed a copy of an April 21 letter, sent to him by Quinault Reservation attorney Richard Reich, offering to withdraw the nation's petition of reconsideration "if the Cowlitz Tribe is willing to enter into a binding agreement disclaiming its assertions of tribal rights or interests in the Quinault Reservation."

Whittlesey also submitted a copy of an article published in this paper that quoted Pearl Capoeman-Baller, president of the Quinault Tribal Council, saying the Quinault are not opposed to the Cowlitz petition for recognition, but rather some of the claims in the petition.

Approximately 16 percent of the Quinault Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula is allotted to Cowlitz tribal members. The Queets, Hoh, Quileute, Shoalwater Bay and Chehalis tribes also have members who were granted allotments on the reservation. But, despite the fact the reservation was originally set aside for the Quinault and "other fish eating tribes on the Pacific coast" in an 1856 treaty, the Quinault claim exclusive jurisdiction on the reservation.

"This letter ... is where their true agenda has really come out," says John Barnett, Cowlitz general council chairman. "They're scared of the fact that other tribes are going to get a say so on some of the things that happen on reservation."

The Cowlitz filed the unprecedented motion based upon an obscure regulation in the acknowledgment and review process that provides for the imposition of a bond by the board if the situation seems to warrant it.

Capoeman-Baller was out of state and unavailable for comment on the motion.

The Cowlitz, who have petitioned for federal recognition for 25 years, feel the situation demands action.

"We've gone over a month now and we haven't heard anything from the IBIA in terms of what the process is going to be," Barnett says. "Every day that our recognition is delayed, it's costing the Cowlitz Tribe and its members any amount of dollars that you want to put to it in terms of lost services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service and the standard benefits that you have as a recognized tribe.

"We're really in a limbo state right now, not knowing exactly what's going to be required of us, or the Branch of Acknowledgment or the Solicitor's Office or any of the entities that are going to be involved in this appeal."

Barnett says a number of economic projects the tribe has been counting on for income have had to be put on hold until the appeal process is completed. The appeal has delayed the expansion of the Cowlitz Tribe's 20-acre land base for tribal offices and services. Because the appeal process is open-ended and could take months to complete, the tribe decided a bond to defray the costs involved from lost income was necessary.

"If the Quinaults want to drag this thing out to test the merits of their case one more time, a case which was virtually identical to one that has been previously rejected by the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research, then we think they ought to put their money where their mouth is," Whittlesey says.

The appeal, filed by the Quinault Nation May 18, states that there was a lack of historical continuity of the Cowlitz Tribe. It claims the majority of the tribe's 2,000 members are not direct descendants of the original Lower Cowlitz Tribe, but rather descendants of Native women and Hudson Bay Co. employees living in the area in the late 1800s. The appeal also calls into question the review by the Board of Acknowledgment and Research.

"At the heart of the matter is the genealogical reports that were developed independent of the tribe by the staff genealogist at the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research, a highly talented, educated Ph.D. with rigor in her methodology," says Dr. Stephen Becham, Cowlitz historian and adviser for 22 years. "I have reviewed her geological reports in detail, and in my understanding, every current Cowlitz member is descended from an Aboriginal Cowlitz except the members of one family."

But the Quinaults, adamant that the research done by the tribe and the BAR provides insufficient proof of direct lineage, filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act with the BAR, seeking the release of the Cowlitz genealogical records to the Quinault Nation for review.

"We're asking for information," Capoeman-Baller said in an earlier interview. "We weren't able to get a lot of the information that Cowlitz submitted. We weren't allowed to review it or get copies of it. And we would like to review some of the stuff that they filed. I mean, how many members did they claim they have? And I wanted to know if any of those were Quinaults that are listed on there. There are several other pieces of information that we wanted also."

The Quinault request dismayed and angered Cowlitz representatives who claim that no Indian nation would release its private enrollment information for scrutiny by another tribe. The information request, denied by the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research, is under appeal by the Quinault Nation.

For the moment, everything rests with Interior's Board of Indian Appeals. Cowlitz officials say they are hopeful the motion will clarify what they feel is the political nature of the appeal and that the recognition process will be completed.

"One of these days, before we all get too old, I'd like to see this resolved," Barnett says.