In 1805, the Chinook Indians met Lewis and Clark at the mouth of the Columbia River. Historians say that without the tribe's help the explorers would have perished over the long, wet winter. The tribe's name is now attached to landmarks throughout the Northwest, but for decades the federal government has acted as though the tribe doesn't exist.
That's because in 1855, tribal leaders refused to sign a treaty with the United States that would have relocated the Chinook from their homeland near the Columbia River to a coastal reservation. Then, in the 1980s, the tribe submitted 1,300 exhibits and 4,000 pages of information to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in an attempt to obtain recognition. Throughout the '90s the tribe continued to appeal to the agency, even after the BIA said Chinook bloodlines were impossible to trace, and that tribal customs and heritage had disappeared.
Then, early last month, two years after the tribe discovered that a large amount of its application information had been mislaid in an agency drawer, the Bureau formally recognized the tribe.
"Today we have the opportunity to address directly a historical injustice lasting many years," said Kevin Gover, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, the day of the announcement.
The Chinook will now receive federal dollars to help restore the Chinook language, bolster economic development and improve housing and healthcare. The Chinook tribe also hopes to acquire its own land base, along the Columbia River and Willapa Bay.