More than 100 members of the Chinook Indian Nation, and their local friends and allies, gathered Friday on Vancouver’s Officers Row to show support for federal tribal recognition. They urged congressional leaders to pass the Chinook Restoration Act, bringing benefits to the tribe and starting the process of establishing a reservation near the mouth of the Columbia River.
“We have supported the Chinook for decades,” Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said of the Vancouver City Council. “We were so excited when recognition happened and so disappointed” when it was withdrawn again. “We will always give you our support.”
Because of a complicated and painful history of broken and “shelved” treaties and unfair legal decisions, tribal chairman Tony Johnson said, the Chinook tribe was only briefly recognized by the outgoing Clinton administration in 2001. Recognition was abruptly rescinded 18 months later by the Bush administration.
Lack of federal recognition means the Chinook, who are based north of the Columbia in rural Pacific County, have no reservation and remain deprived of many resources and assistance available to sister tribes — including money for infrastructure and tsunami protection, housing, education, public health and COVID resources, mental health and drug treatment, several speakers said during the rally.
“Without federal recognition, we don’t have the means of dealing with any of it, and it’s so damned frustrating,” Johnson said.
Much progress is finally being made by the 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., Johnson said, but the Chinook cannot share in it. “It’s allowing (sister tribes) a type of nation building. It hurts to not be a part of it,” he said.
“It’s way past time our delegations in both Washington and Oregon act” to pass the Chinook Restoration Act, he said.
Tana Engdahl, an elder with Clark County’s Cowlitz tribe, spoke out in support of the Chinook.
“We are here with our cousins,” she said. “We will never be complete people until the Chinook tribe is recognized among us.”