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Chinook Tribal Status Under Review

November 08, 2001|Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Less than a year after getting federal recognition, the American Indian tribe that welcomed the Lewis and Clark expedition to the mouth of the Columbia River is in danger of losing its status.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton told the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Tuesday to review the Chinook Indian tribe's federal recognition.

Norton's decision sends the issue back to an agency staff that previously rejected the tribe's attempt at recognition, said Dennis Whittlesey, a lawyer representing the Washington tribe.

"It's clear the policy people, the political appointees in the Bush administration, have abrogated their responsibility and are not involved in the decision-making process," Whittlesey said.

Kevin Gover, who was U.S. assistant secretary of Indian affairs in the Clinton administration, made it is his last official act to reestablish the Chinook tribal status Jan. 3, overturning his staff's recommendation to deny tribal status.

The action made the Chinook the 562nd tribe to be recognized and allowed it to seek land for a reservation, as well as get more federal money to run its government.

The last-minute decision drew criticism, especially after Gover went to work as a lawyer-lobbyist for tribes.

The Chinook signed a treaty in 1851, but it was never ratified by Congress. An 1855 treaty would have moved the Chinook from their homeland to a coastal reservation shared with the Quinault, their historic enemies. Chinook tribal leaders refused to sign the agreement.

The Quinault Indian Nation, which stands to lose membership and land if the Chinook become a recognized tribe, appealed Gover's ruling April 6 to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.

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