OLYMPIA — The Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco has a permanent exhibit dedicated to them, artwork at Cape Disappointment State Park commemorates their history and stories, but despite this “local recognition” of the Chinook Indian Nation, Washington state students will not be required to learn about the tribe in public schools.
Bay Center-based Chinook Indian Nation and State Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, unsuccessfully sought last week to have the tribe included in Senate Bill 5433. Under SB5433, school districts would be required include the history of the state’s 29 federally recognized Indian tribes in their curriculum. In his amendment, he asked they strike the phrase “federally recognized” in order to include tribes that are seeking recognition but have yet to obtain it.
Though Hatfield’s amendment was shot down, it could still make it onto the bill in a similar form.
State Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said he and fellow representative Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, plan to push for this as well when the bill comes before the House. Takko says he wants to be specific, naming five currently non-federal Washington tribes including the Chinook.
“All tribes want to be treated equally and the mere fact that some are federally recognized already and some aren’t doesn’t seem fair,” Takko said in a phone interview March 17. “Those tribes certainly have a cultural identity.”
“Their tribal history is certainly a piece of our history,” he added, referencing the Chinook specifically. “I think it’s something we should recognize and teach.”
Currently, the bill is in committee where it could be amended to include unrecognized tribes though this is unlikely to happen, Takko said. If the bill reaches the floor and no amendments have been made, Takko said, “Blake and I will put the amendment out there.”
“Washington State Senate Bill 5433 has wonderful intentions — to mandate the teaching of Indian History in Washington Schools,” the Chinook Indian Nation said in its recent appeal after Hatfield’s amendment failed. “Each school will be responsible to teach the history of their local federally recognized tribe. Chinook is NOT federally recognized and therefor will be left out of Pacific and Wahkiakum County school’s history lessons. Imagine our local school children not learning about the tribe who hosted Lewis & Clark!”
The Chinook Tribe has waged a decades-long campaign to achieve federal legal status. It was granted in the closing days of the Bill Clinton administration, but withdrawn a year later by the George W. Bush administration, which said a Clinton-appointed official in the Bureau of Indian Affairs had turned a blind eye to shortcomings in the Chinooks’ recognition case. Recent changes in BIA rules have provided the tribe with a glimmer of hope that they may yet overcome these issues, but nothing much has happened so far.
Hatfield offered an amendment to SB5433 that would have included tribes that still seek federal recognition, such as the Chinook Indian Nation. There are around 10 unrecognized tribes in Washington state, including the Duwamish and Snohomish.
Hatfield’s amendment was not adopted, and SB5433 passed the Senate on a 42-7 vote with a teaching mandate only for recognized tribes. Some local educators in Pacific County have included information about the Chinook Tribe in lessons, and there is nothing in the new law that will preclude this from continuing.
“I applaud the effort to require our schools to teach students about the region’s important tribal history, but leaving out tribes like the Chinook Indian Nation is the wrong path for our state to take,” Hatfield said.
“The Chinook people and their history should not be silenced,” Hatfield said. “They are rightfully proud of their heritage and should be part of any comprehensive look at tribal history in our classrooms.”
Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, spoke in favor of Hatfield’s amendment, explaining he studied the Chinook language as a high school student in northeast Washington.
“It was historical enough to study back then and I don’t understand why it’s not now,” Dansel said.
Chinook Tribal Elder Gary Johnson is one voice urging lawmakers in Olympia to include their history in the state’s official Native American curriculum.
“By excluding the Chinook from telling our history, culture, and traditions, much of the story of early contact and the fight for survival will not be told,” said Johnson in a letter to legislators. “Who will tell the story if not the Chinook? During the last 35 years, we have had a major project of recording our story. No one else has this information. This story began long before Robert Gray in 1792 and also includes the story of Lewis and Clark.”
Johnson was tribal chairman in 2001 when the Chinooks briefly obtained recognition.