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Cowlitz Recognition


LONGVIEW, Wash. - After battling for years and suffering last-minute reversals, the Cowlitz tribe has finally won federal recognition.

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb announced his approval of the positive 'reconsidered final determination' on Jan. 3. The decision ends a long-standing feud with the neighboring Quinault Indian Nation which had been opposing their recognition.

Cowlitz tribal chairman John Barnett said he received a call directly from McCaleb confirming the recognition on the morning that the decision was made.

Cowlitz tribal attorney Dennis Whittlesey says McCaleb based his decision on the rules of recognition, one of which is that a tribe is required to show continuous tribal existence. This was based on an earlier decision by McCaleb's predecessor Kevin Gover who signed a final decision on the matter on February 14, 2000. The matter was later remanded to the Interior appeals board after a challenge by the Quinault tribe.

The appeal by the Quinault tribe, issued 89 days after Gover's decision, was published in the Federal Register. The Interior appeals board affirmed the decision but said three questions 'were outside its jurisdiction.' It referred the questions to Interior Secretary Gale Norton who left one issue and part of a second to be decided by Gover's successor, Neal McCaleb.

"The matter should have never been remanded and should have ended with the Interior appeals board decision. It was really just a small point that hung everything up," says Whittlesey.

That small point had to do with an erroneous take on an 1878 and 1880 census that left out nearly half of the Cowlitz tribe, though the information and documentation was there. McCaleb decided that the misstatements in the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research technical report did not affect the positive determination.

The dispute with the Quinaults has its origins in pre-European contact times. It was intensified by the Treaty of Olympia signed in the 1850s that put these two tribes, along with four others, on the same reservation, ostensibly to be governed by the Quinault.

Article six of the Treaty of Olympia stated that the other tribes that were forced onto the reservation, including the Cowlitz, would eventually be given the same rights as the Quinaults and Quileutes, the two signatory tribes. The situation became increasingly uneasy when Cowlitz tribal members were given individual allotments on the Quinault reservation.

The problem has been one of interpretation of article six of the treaty. Quinault tribal chairwoman, Pearl Capoeman-Baller says her tribe has interpreted this to mean that all of the tribes living on the reservation would have the right to become Quinault tribal members and participate in their society and government. Capoeman-Baller says the issue is also confused by the fact that many Quinault tribal members are descended from the Cowlitz tribe and the Quinault administration was blocked by the Interior Department from seeing the lists of those now claiming Cowlitz descent.

"We at Quinault have always tried to be progressive and have tried to allow them a voice in the Quinault government, but we have the right to govern our own land," says Capoeman-Baller.

Furthermore, Capoeman-Baller says that two of the other Quinault reservation tribes, the Makah and Squaxin Island tribe, recognize Quinault governance. However, yet another Quinault Reservation tribe in addition to the Cowlitz, the Chinook, has also recently battled the Quinault in the courts in their own battle for federal recognition.

The Cowlitz tribe, on the other hand, interprets the Treaty of Olympia as allowing them the right to self-governance. John Barnett says that they are backed by years of case law including the Halbert case in the U. S. Supreme Court in which off-reservation Indians were given the right to take land on the Quinault Reservation.

Barnett says that court decisions like the Halbert case prove that the Cowlitz have a say in Quinault reservation matters as their own tribe and it is unclear how federal recognition will affect the Cowlitz there. However, the Cowlitz have a separate, neighboring piece of land they can call their own. It is unclear at this time how this will affect Quinault governance of tribal members living on that reservation.

For now Barnett says he is just pleased that they can finally move forward with some of their own plans. He says the first order of business is to establish services to meet the basic needs of the fledgling tribe, such as health, education and welfare. After this, Barnett says Cowlitz will start looking into forms of economic development but says it is still too early to name any specific types of businesses.

According to the BIA announcement, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe is an amalgamated tribe descended from two historically amalgamated bands, the Salish-speaking Lower Cowlitz and the Sahaptin-speaking Upper Cowlitz, or Taidnapam, Indians. The tribe refused to consent to be transferred from its traditional territory and in 1904 filed a claim against the Federal government for the taking of its land.

The tribe reorganized along modern lines in 1910, with elected officers and a board of directors.