WASHINGTON, D.C. - Next Wednesday, July 15, is red-letter day for the Chinook Indian Tribe as tribal leaders testify before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee in support of U.S. Rep. Brian Baird's proposal to restore the Chinooks' formal federal recognition.
The historic hearing will get underway at 10 a.m. EDT in the Longworth House Office Building adjacent to the U.S. Capitol. Tribal Chairman Ray Gardner of Menlo, Council Member Sam Robinson of Vancouver, and Council Member and hereditary Chief Phil Hawks of Bay Center will attend garbed in traditional Northwest Coast regalia of button blankets and cedar hats.
Gardner said Friday he is optimistic about the Chinooks' prospects for becoming a recognized tribe, an important status that brings prestige, federal funds and a renewed sense of self-esteem to people who have made their homes along the Lower Columbia River for several thousand years.
"They feel this will go right through," Gardner said, regarding the congressional staff. All known potential objections to Chinook recognition have been dealt with over the past couple years during talks about earlier versions of Baird's legislation, which technically restores federal status for the Chinook tribe that was granted by the Clinton Bureau of Indian Affairs but subsequently cancelled by the Bush administration.
The latest bill, HR 3084, eliminated the need for a separate hearing before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee by removing reference to the tribe's future tax-exempt status. All recognized tribes are tax-exempt anyway, since tribes are in effect sovereign governments within U.S. borders.
"Unless the committee has major concerns, and I don't think they do ... this may be back to the full Congress in a week," Gardner said. Parallel legislation would then be introduced in the U.S. Senate.
The Chinook case has just been further strengthened by a vote of support from the Grand Ronde Tribe, which is centered in the Oregon Coast Range east of Lincoln City. The Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe in north Pacific County previously passed a resolution in support of the Chinook. Other area tribes, including the Quinaults, which sought to block Chinook recognition in 2001, have remained silent this time - which Gardner regards as a highly positive development.
Gardner said that although only he is currently on the Natural Resources Committee's agenda to testify, he anticipates that both Hawks and Robinson will also have their remarks entered on the record. The hearing will be a crucial milestone in tribal history to which all three will bear witness, a key role in the story-telling tradition of the Chinook. Tribal attorney Michael Mason also will attend.
The Chinook Observer will report additional details following the committee hearing next week.