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Cowlitz Indian Tribe Gets Our Reservation

On March 9, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Regional Director Stanley Speaks signed the final documents to establish the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s Reservation, to an audience of Cowlitz elders and tribal leaders.

A court decision issued by United States District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein on December 12, 2014 dismissed the appeal by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s opponent’s and reaffirmed the Federal Government’s decision to take 152 acres in Clark County into trust for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. This decision has positive implications for other tribes recognized by the federal government after 1934.

Though Monday's signing was 16 years in the making, we Cowlitz have been without reservation land for over 160 years. Many generations have passed waiting for this day.

“After 160 years of longing for a Reservation within our aboriginal lands, I welcome all Cowlitz people to come home!” Cowlitz Chair Bill Iyall exclaimed to a rapt audience, “We are no longer a landless tribe.”

We always knew this reservation land was ours, and the government and Federal Court agreed. “The new reservation will offer opportunities for our Tribal people and the wider community, says Iyall, “it will benefit the citizens of Clark County, because it stands to benefit all citizens. Our neighbors recognize it, and in the future our children will benefit, the families and communities will benefit, as the Tribe continues to grow in influence, scope, and services.”

“Let's get this signed!” smiled Cowlitz Spiritual Leader, Tanna Engdahl, and Chairman Iyall quipped as he laid ink to paper, “I'll be keeping this pen!” Smiles abounded, but there were few dry eyes in the house. Lucky enough to be in attendance, I know this day was long in the making and many Cowlitz people who gave years of time and effort to make it happen did not live to see the moment. They were there in spirit, though, each and everyone one, pulling in close and standing by.

Christine Dupres, Cowlitz/Cree, Ph.D., is the author of Being Cowlitz: How One Tribe Renewed and Sustained Its Identity (University of Washington Press 2014).