CHINOOK - The Chinook Indian Tribe released a statement to the press Thursday, saying the tribe will not participate in some Lewis and Clark Bicentennial events. Reasons for the tribe's decision are outlined in the release, as follows:
"The historically important Chinook Nation, essential to the survival of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery during the winter of 1805-06, will be withdrawing its participation from some events commemorating the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial on the lower Columbia River.
"The nine-member Chinook Tribal Council has indicated the tribe will not participate in any commemorative events including a newly formed association calling themselves the Clatsop-Nehalem. The Chinook Nation is asking other tribes to support the Chinook Nation as the rightful descendants of the Chinook Indians recorded by Lewis and Clark.
"This decision was the result of an ongoing refusal on the part of the commemoration organizers, both local and national, to recognize the Chinook Nation as the sole homeland tribe within their own territory on the lower Columbia River.
The sovereign Chinook Indian Tribe/Chinook Nation is the heir of the five western-most tribes of Chinookan people - the Lower Chinook, Clatsop, Willapa, Kathlamet and Wahkiakum. Lewis and Clark interacted with representatives of all these tribes.
Initially, the tribe believed participating in Bicentennial events would provide much-needed attention to the tribe and its painful struggle for recognition and has invested many years into planning meetings and Lewis and Clark-related projects.
Tony Johnson, the tribe's culture committee chairman said, "The tribe looked forward to accurately interpreting the story of the Chinookan people at the mouth of the Columbia River both at the time of Lewis and Clark and today. Despite this intention, it is obvious that local and national organizations are not interested in a historically accurate story."
Johnson is speaking of the decision by Bicentennial planners to include the newly formed "Clatsop-Nehalem" group as an equal party to Bicentennial planning and activities, despite the Chinook Nation's protests and historical documentation as the rightful representative tribe.
"We are a long-standing governmental representation of the historic Clatsop Tribe," says Johnson.
The Chinook Indian Tribe's modern constitution, created in 1953, outlines tribal membership criteria. Clearly referenced are five Anson Dart treaties signed in 1851 by the ancestors of the current Chinook Nation. These treaties are those of the Lower Chinook, Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiakum and Kathlamet. The Chinook Nation has consistently worked to represent all five tribes from which the membership descends.
"In 1958, the tribe filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Lower Chinook and Clatsop tribes with the Indian Land Claims Commission. The tribe was awarded a settlement, but that award has not been touched, due to a belief by its membership that the award amount was unconscionably low and that in doing so, would condone the assertion by the Claims Commission that most of the resources controlled by the Chinook Indian Tribe had little value before the coming of the white man. The federal government holds this award in trust for the tribe to this day. A large portion of the government's award was for territory on the Oregon side of the river, documenting the modern Chinook Nation, a confederation of five tribes, as the sole representative of the aboriginal inhabitants at the time of Euro-contact. The Bi-state Bicentennial group and COTA, the Circle of Tribal Advisors, was repeatedly presented with documentation that clearly supports the Chinook Nation as the only legitimate representative of the five western tribes of the Chinooks.
"Despite this effort, and the tribe's continued history and presence in the area, numerous organizations have still decided to recognize the 'Clatsop-Nehalem' group as equal partners in Lewis and Clark Bicentennial activities. These organizations do not require the tribal representative groups to historically document their rightful place among the various homeland tribes.
"The 'Clatsop-Nehalem' group was formed during the planning of commemoration events. Since its formation, the 'Clatsop-Nehalem' group has announced it is seeking federal acknowledgment. They have chosen to take this action despite the fact that most of the key players involved in the recent formation of this group have all been enrolled in the Chinook Nation/Indian Tribe.
"The Chinook Nation has repeatedly expressed dismay at the recognition afforded this group by local organizations such as the Destination The Pacific board, a bi-state committee which is charged with the planning and implementation of Bicentennial events. The DTP board is in charge of the signature events at the mouth of the Columbia River and the Fort Clatsop National Memorial in 2005.
"The Chinook Tribal Council holds as solemn its charge to uphold the constitution of the Chinook Nation and protect the interests of all tribal members. As a result, the Chinook Tribal Council voted unanimously on March 13, to withdraw its participation from any organized effort that supports and attempts to legitimize the existence of the 'Clatsop-Nehalem' group. The tribal council will take every step necessary to protect the interests of the legitimate descendants of the five western-most tribes of Chinook people.
"Clatsop descendants are eligible for enrollment within the Chinook Nation and are encouraged to apply. The majority of members of the Chinook Tribal Council are Clatsop descendants. They, like most members of the Chinook Nation, are related historically with more than one of the five historical Chinookan tribes from the mouth of the river as well as with surrounding Native groups. The tribe welcomes all descendants of the five bands who are eligible for enrollment, but will never condone the intrusion of individuals or groups who are without historical legitimacy.
"Vice chairman of the Chinook Tribal Council Norris Pettit said, 'We decided to participate in this event because of the importance of it and the advantage it would give us to tell our story - it is clear that it is no longer good for us to participate.'
"'We are just extremely sad that we have to withdraw after so many years of positive involvement and the sharing of our culture with organizations such as the Destination The Pacific board and the Circle of Tribal Advisors. Unfortunately for us, despite our withdrawal, they will likely continue to exploit our culture for their events,'" Chinook Tribal Council member Greg Robinson said.
"Chairman Gary Johnson emphasizes, 'We have made many friends who have been very supportive of our cause, but we are sworn to protect the interests of our people and that is what we will do. We will, however, continue to work with those organizations that support us and will continue to participate in commemoration events which do not endanger the future of our elders and children.'
"The Chinook Nation petitioned the federal government for acknowledgment in 1982 and was finally granted status in 2001. This status was short-lived, however, and was reversed by the Bush Administration shortly after taking office. The Chinook Tribe is working to introduce a bill before Congress to remedy this historic injustice."
David Nicandri, director of the Washington State Historical Society, said "This is a sad legacy of the whole post-Columbian encounter on the hemisphere. One of the unfortunate consequences of what's happened is that it would seem as if the fiercest fights Indian people have is with other Indian people. It's a very sad turn of events."
Nicandri said he was hopeful that "one of the lasting legacies of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial is that there's a greater public consciousness of the part the Indians played in the Lewis and Clark saga. That's generally happening in other parts of the country, specifically with the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho. This is not a fortunate turn of events."
The Chinook Tribe will be working closely with the historical society on plans for Station Camp, Nicandri said. "They will be the signatory tribe for any archaeological discoveries and for any ceremonial and dedicatorial events. I can't imagine anyone but the Chinook being involved. Their village was less than a mile away from Station Camp."
Karen Snyder, co-chair of the Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark, said "We've been working on planning for the Bicentennial for five years and have been pleased to have Chinook representation at the table. We supported them in their request (as host tribe) to the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial."
Chinook Tribal Chairman Gary Johnson said Tuesday that "the Clatsop territory is included in Docket 234 of the federal lands claim case and includes lands in Oregon and Washington. The federal government is holding money in trust for the Chinook nation. That in itself clearly tells you who the Clatsop people are. We are the Clatsops. That's been recognized by the federal government in the lands claim case that awarded the money to us and is further acknowledgment by the federal government of who we are."
NOTE: The "Clatsop-Nehalem" were formerly known as the Nehalem-Tillamook until a couple of years ago. The group has fewer than 10 members.