A recent Columbian front-page article reporting on a federal court decision about the Cowlitz Reservation — especially the large, bold headline — was disturbingly misleading. The Tribe’s “casino plans” were not “blocked” or “thrown out” by the federal judge. Rather, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara J. Rothstein addressed a procedural matter related to how the Department of the Interior issued its decision to acquire in trust the land which will become the Tribe’s reservation. The judge directed the Department of Interior to address that procedural matter and to re-issue its decision within 60 days.
The Cowlitz tradition is one of sharing with our neighbors. In meeting our future needs we will also advance the economic development needs of Clark County. Our planned economic development is projected to create thousands of jobs, not just for Cowlitz members, but for our entire surrounding community. In addition, our proposed development will allow us to fund and make much-needed improvements to our road system (e.g., improved freeway access at the La Center interchange) that will prevent future traffic congestion and encourage additional investments outside the reservation boundaries.
Fighting for homeland
We regret that this most recent court decision may delay our ability to generate those jobs sooner rather than later, but this procedural ruling will not ultimately stop us from moving forward. Since the federal government took away from us our lands more than 150 years ago, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe has fought tirelessly to re-establish a homeland for our people. We are not going to give up that fight now.
Without a reservation, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe has had great difficulty providing the most fundamental, basic governmental services for its people. We have no trust land on which to build housing, take care of our elders, or to conduct economic development to provide employment, as other Indian tribes do. We are not eligible for the federal reservation-based programs that are available to almost all other tribes in the United States. And because we are landless, we are the only tribe in Washington state that cannot provide jobs and economic opportunity for the Cowlitz people and the surrounding community through the conduct of Indian gaming.
After 150 years of landlessness, the federal government is trying to give us the tools we need to make an unimproved open field our new reservation homeland. It will be here that we can protect and retain our culture, honor our elders, and meet the needs of our people.
In doing this, we will also serve the economic needs of north Clark County as a whole. While the recent court ruling may delay the first day on which every Cowlitz member can first set foot on land we can truly call our own, it will not prevent us from ultimately reaching that day.
William B. Iyall of Kelso is chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.