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Know the West

Chinook tribe loses recognition



In July, when members of the Chinook Tribe were invited to the White House for a kick-off to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, they came bearing gifts - a hand-carved dugout canoe and beads - for the Bush family. Two days later, the descendents of those who saved Lewis and Clark from starvation in 1805 received a phone call from the Bureau of Indian Affairs informing them they weren't a tribe.

Neal McCaleb, assistant director of Indian Affairs, reversed a 2001 decision by the Clinton administration and denied the Chinook Tribe's federal recognition, making the Chinook the second Washington tribe this year to have its federal status rescinded (HCN, 6/10/02).

"We recognize their importance, and it's not that we don't respect the Chinook," says Bureau of Indian Affairs spokeswoman Nedra Darling. "But the tribe did not meet the seven criteria established under the law."

Along with official recognition comes federal money for social and educational programs. Tribal leaders feel this money would help create a homeland. "Education, health care, housing, and economic opportunities are vital to the survival of the tribe," says Gary Johnson, the tribe's chairman. "Those who are still here can stay and others can come home and we can build a stronger community."

The Chinook began their petition for recognition in 1978, and will continue their battle, either in the courts or in Congress. "The tribal leaders who worked so hard 24 years ago have passed on," says Johnson. "Part of the government system is to wear you down by all the time it takes.' "