Chinook Nation denied status after long wait
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MONDAY, JULY 8, 2002

The descendants of the first tribe to greet explorers Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Northwest do not deserve federal recognition, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb announced on Friday.

Despite holding "a deep appreciation" for the Chinook Nation's place in history, McCaleb said the Washington tribe did not prove its existence. Three out of seven mandatory recognition criteria were not met, according to a Bureau of Indian Affairs statement.

The tribe failed to show political, social and historical continuity, the BIA's Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) found.

The news came after a several-month delay at the hands of the Bush administration. McCaleb last fall asked the BAR to re-evaluate the tribe because the federally-recognized Quinault Nation of Washington raised several questions about former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover's January 2001 acknowledgment of the tribe.

And in an ironic twist, the decision came as Chinook chairman Gary C. Johnson and wife were guests of President Bush last Wednesday. The pair attended a House luncheon commemorating the upcoming bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark's historic journey.

"Will the Chinooks, who helped Lewis and Clark survive their winter on the Pacific Coast, participate in this event?" Johnson said in a statement after the decision was announced.

With administrative appeals now exhausted, a lawsuit or or Congressional action are the tribe's only recourse to correct what Johnson said was a politically motivated action. He blamed the Chinook's "historical enemy," but also pointed to the BAR's "incompetence."

For while the Quinault Nation objected, the BIA staff members were intimately involved in questioning their former boss long after he left his federal post. In a scathing September 2001 letter to Secretary Gale Norton, BAR director R. Lee Fleming outlined several objections to what he called a "departure from precedent."

McCaleb sided with the Quinault Nation and the BAR staff by denying federal status to the Chinook. Gover's decision, the BIA said, was "based upon an inappropriate interpretation of important evidence."

"[O]nce removed from consideration, the supporting evidence remaining was not sufficient to warrant federal recognition," the BIA statement added.

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