Chinook Indian Nation continues decades-long fight to be recognized by U.S. government

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 9:31 AM PDT
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(KPTV) - A Native American tribe whose ancestral home is near the mouth of the Columbia River is hoping for some movement in its decades-long quest to be recognized by the U.S. Government.

The Chinook tribe has a long and storied history in the Pacific Northwest, but wasn’t officially federally recognized until 2001. That recognition was short-lived, as the Bureau of Indian Affairs reversed its decision to recognize the tribe 18 months later.

“I don’t think you can look at the United States’ interaction with us as anything but betrayal after betrayal,” said Chinook Tribal Chairman Tony Johnson.

Chinook tribal leaders engaged in treaty talks with the U.S. Government in the late 1800s, and historical documents show payments from the government to tribal members, but the Chinook refused to be relocated from their ancestral lands, and never signed an official treaty. As a result, the tribe has no federally established reservation, and no access to benefits available to other Native American tribes.

“Every single day we are reminded of what we can’t do for our tribal members,” said Johnson.

Johnson has been working with Washington legislators to craft a bill that would secure federal recognition for the Chinook, and is cautiously optimistic that momentum is on the tribe’s side. He and other tribal leaders have engaged in talks with the Quinault Indian Nation, whose opposition to Chinook recognition prompted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reconsider its decision in 2002.

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“We have asked them expressly to provide us with a statement of support for our bill or at least a statement that says they’ll be neutral and not oppose it,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the Chinook Tribe has the support of several neighboring tribes and county commissioners on both sides of the Columbia River.