Stolen Justice: Restoring Federal Recognition of the Chinook Indian Nation
The Pacific Northwest is shaped by the culture and history of the Indigenous peoples who have called this region home since time immemorial. As leaders of foundations explicitly focused on racial justice working in the states of Washington and Oregon, it is impossible for us to ignore one of the nation’s deepest injustices unfolding in our backyards: the historic oppression of the Chinook Nation and the continued obstacles to restoring federal recognition.
Federal tribal recognition allows Native American tribes to possess some sovereignty in the eyes of the federal government and guarantees access to federal and state resources to fund housing, public health, and educational opportunities. After more than a century of hard work, the Chinook Nation was officially recognized at the end of the Clinton administration more than 20 years ago. This legitimate recognition was rescinded by the George W. Bush administration just 18 months later in 2002. The rescission of federal recognition was a declaration that tribal sovereignty no longer existed in the eyes of the government, and this decision led to unacceptable realities for the Chinook. people.
The current impacts of the historic oppression of the Chinook community are clear: stolen land, eviction from villages, forcing children to attend boarding schools, and denial of access to subsistence on their own lands are all part of our history as a nation. And we refuse to let this continued oppression continue.
Each of our foundations is deeply committed to Washington and Oregon. Through this work, we have each found our way, through various paths, to a partnership with the Chinook Nation. Too often we ask ourselves a familiar question: “Why must the work of justice, healing and reconciliation always rest on the shoulders of the oppressed?
With so many lives at stake, federal recognition shouldn’t be that hard to come by. In fact, every tribe that participated in the Chehalis River Treaty negotiations, the 1855 negotiations asking tribal representatives to vacate their lands, is now recognized by the federal government. All except the Chinook.
Yet the story of the Chinook people persists, even through unjust treatment by the United States government, as documented by our nation’s leading legal experts on this issue, including the United States Department of the Interior. We have collectively seen the efforts and resilience of the Chinook Nation, and the decision to right this historic wrong now rests with Congress. The nation drafted a bill and garnered deep support from local leaders, nonprofits, elected officials, and tens of thousands of people across America.
This includes the unanimous support of all county commissioners governing Pacific County, Wahkiakum County, Clatsop County, and at various times, all neighboring tribes, including but not limited to Indian Tribe Cowlitz, Shoalwater Bay Tribe, Chehalis Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Grande Ronde Confederated Tribes and many more.
This pledge is in partnership with the Marguerite Casey Foundation, Arcora Foundation, Group Health Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Satterberg Foundation, Northwest Health Foundation, and Empire Health Community Advocacy Fund. As foundations that partner and work primarily with organizations focused on communities of color, we are encouraged and thrilled to see incredible support and advocacy from grantees and organizations serving Black, Latina, Pacific Islanders and Northwest Asians. It is high time Congress considered Chinook Nation Restoration legislation – legislation that would restore the nation to its rightful place as a federally recognized tribe in the United States.
This legislation will also benefit the wider communities that also inhabit Chinook lands. Restoration will provide a much-needed economic boost, enhancement of critical resources, and environmental protection of the Pacific Northwest that can only occur by having a recognized tribe properly seated at the mouth of the Columbia River.
We urge U.S. lawmakers representing Washington and Oregon to act, but this restoration legislation and bill has yet to be championed through passage and implementation.
Congress has the power to make this legislative change. We urge people around the world to support us and urge Congress to correct this historic injustice. With the growing number of Americans across the country supporting this effort, it will be impossible for our representatives to ignore the Chinook Nation any longer.