Skip to main content

Quinault appeal Chinook recognition in ages-old tribal dispute

  • Author:
  • Updated:

PORTLAND, Ore. - An age-old dispute between Washington state's Chinook and Quinault tribes has culminated in another appeal to block former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Gover's decision to grant federal recognition to the Chinook.

The appeal follows an earlier move that asked new Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to review the decision. Norton decided to let the Interior Board of Indian Appeals handle the matter.

The problem dates back centuries, to when the Chinook and Quinault were traditional enemies. The Chinook, the tribe that greeted Lewis and Clark when the Corps of Discovery reached the mouth of the Columbia River in 1804, signed a treaty in the early 1850s that was never ratified by the federal government. Individual tribal members were ordered to move to the Quinault reservation, a move despised by members of both tribes.

The Chinook were granted individual allotments on the Quinault reservation that may be at the heart of the present dispute. The Chinook traditionally lived near the mouth of the Columbia, whereas the Quinault live more than 100 miles north, along the Pacific coast. Today the Chinook are divided between the two areas and tribal sources say land and power are the primary reasons for the appeal to reverse recognition. The dispute has flared up in several forms. The Chinook have hunting and fishing rights on the Quinault reservation and say Quinault members are chasing off their members when they try to exercise these rights.

"They've been claiming that we are trying to take the name of a historic tribe and that the Chinooks don't exist, but the fact is we were never terminated," said Peggy Disney, a Chinook tribal councilwoman and office manager.

As was often the case in American Indian removal, the federal government consolidated several tribes into a single area. Seven tribes total shared the reservation. Most have gained recognition, including the Cowlitz tribe last year. Some Chinook speculate the Quinaults feel they are quickly losing authority and power on their own reservation, prompting the legal appeal.

The Quinaults claim the Chinook are the ones trying a power play. They say the Chinook are trying exert tribal authority over their lands, a right they believe was never conferred on that tribe. Quinault say only individual Chinook tribal members and not the tribe as a governmental entity is entitled to the hunting and fishing rights.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Tribal Chairwoman Pearl Capoeman-Baller says the Quinaults offered a compromise. At a meeting with Chinook Chairman Gary Johnson, Capoeman-Baller said she offered to let the individual non-Quinault landholders have a voice in Quinault government and to help the Chinooks establish a land base closer to their traditional territory. Perhaps most significantly, she said she also offered to drop the appeal if the Chinook would agree to the terms. The Chinook declined the offer.

"I understand that the recognition process is lengthy and difficult and it would be easier for them to come into an already established reservation, but I can't give up what I believe are basic Quinault rights to govern our own land," Capoeman-Baller said.

About other tribes which share the Quinault reservation, Capoeman-Baller says results are mixed. She claims the tribe is having a similar problem with the Cowlitz, while other tribes, such as the Makah and Chehalis, have agreed to not challenge Quinault authority.

The case is catching the interest of other area tribes. The Tulalip have entered into the fray as an interested party. They have particular interest because of a parallel situation on the Tulalip reservation with the Duwamish tribe. The Duwamish were scattered in a manner similar to the Chinook in the 19th century and now a Seattle-based group of Duwamish is trying to regain tribal status.

John McCoy, director of governmental affairs for the Tulalip is Duwamish and said his tribe belongs on Tulalip as part of the tribe.

He said case law clearly established the Duwamish as part of the Tulalip reservation and that he feels the situation at Quinault is similar.

"My family has always been at the Tulalip (reservation) and that's where we belong," says McCoy.

The Quinault say they will stand firm on their compromise offer and Chinook say they will fight on. Barring a last-minute agreement, the appeal will go to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals for a decision. A ruling would be expected in the next few months.