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Politics | Think Out Loud

Rule Changes Could Give Chinook Tribes Federal Recognition

The Chinook Indian Nation has lent its name to a salmon, a fur-trade jargon, a warm wind and even a twin-motor military and firefighting helicopter. They play large roles in the histories of Lewis and Clark and the Hudson Bay Company.

But what the five tribes that make up the nation — Cathlamet, Clatsop, Lower Chinook, Wahkaikum and Willapa — don’t have are a treaty or a reservation and they haven’t received Federal benefits since the 1950s. Since the late ‘70s, the nation has pushed for recognition, initially going through a decades-long process that saw the Bureau of Indian Affairs grant them recognition only to reverse its decision. The tribes have also attempted with little success to pass a bill through Congress granting them the official status.

Now, though, the BIA is overhauling the rules that govern the recognition process. The National Congress of American Indians, which comprises only recognized tribes, calls the current rules “arduous,” saying the requirements to document a tribes existence back into the 1800s is particularly challenging. For the 2,700 Chinook and dozens of other tribes across the country, the rule changes could streamline the process and make proving their existence as a historical group easier. The Chinook Nation would only need to prove their continued existence back to 1934.


  • Kate Elliott: Councilwoman for the Chinook Indian Nation
  • Michael Willis: Attorney at Hobbs, Straus, Dean and Walker
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