I am writing this letter in response to the article that appeared in the Chinook Observer on April 17, covering a meeting of the Chinook tribe at the maritime museum. The article says the Clatsop Nehalem have established ourselves over the last decade. Our hereditary chief is 91 years old, and represents an unbroken line of chiefs from pre-contact times. He has lived in our homeland his entire life, and has been working within our community to restore our tribe for over 60 years. Our tribal council are all direct descendants of the last two Clatsop Chiefs, Tostom and Coboway, as well as Nehalem chiefs Kilches and Illga. We have one motive, and one motive only in seeking restoration, and that is to honor our ancestors who lived and died to keep our culture alive.
Chinookan speaking people live along the Columbia from its mouth to Celilo, and although the Clatsop language is a Chinookan language, language affiliation does not equate to tribal affiliation. The Clatsop have always been Clatsop, not Chinook, and likewise the Chinook did not refer to themselves as Clatsop. The fact that we were autonomous groups is supported by our oral history and all of the written documentation from early records from the fur era, settlers, and anthropologists later studying local Indian culture. The only people who seem to believe this one-tribe theory are certain Chinook members pushing the greater Chinook Nation idea. It flies in the face of all the oral traditions of the area, written records from the earliest European contact, and anthropological studies done over 100 years ago. Lewis and Clark commented on villages of Clatsop and Nehalem families, and the fact the tribal members were fluent in both languages. Franz Boas said much the same and speculated some 85 years later that the Clatsop and Nehalem had probably been integrated for hundreds of years. Our own oral history as well as the living history of our hereditary chief and tribal elders also reaffirms this truth.
Nowhere are there descriptions of Clatsop-Chinook villages. The Clatsop people were scattered around several reservations after the treaties of 1851 were not ratified with many currently living and enrolled at Siletz, Grand Ronde, Quinault, Chehalis, Skokomish and Cowlitz. Many of our relatives moved across the great river to live in Chinook communities, and to become members of those communities. Many Clatsop also remained in the homeland, and live here to this day as members of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes. My family went to Grand Ronde for a time, and then returned to the homeland. We are now scattered across the state and the region. How is it that the Chinook feel they are to speak for all the Clatsop people?
It is very alarming to us to have the Chinook people come to our homeland making false claims about us and saying negative things. It would be much more constructive to have a dialog and develop better relations between us than to continue this confrontational stance. What we are doing in our restoration effort in no way takes anything away from the Chinook tribe. We simply want recognition of our culture and heritage, and support the same for our Chinook cousins. Our native people were, and continue to be honorable and respectful toward all human beings and all of life. Confrontation and accusations dont help anybody.
Clatsop/Nehalem Tribal Council