The Pacific Northwest is shaped by the culture and history of Indigenous peoples who have called this region home since time immemorial. As leaders of foundations explicitly focused on racial justice working in the states of Washington and Oregon, it is impossible for us to ignore one of the country’s most profound injustices unfolding right in our backyards: the historical oppression of the Chinook Nation and the ongoing roadblocks to restore federal recognition.
Federal tribal recognition allows for Native American tribes to possess a measure of sovereignty in the eyes of the federal government, and ensures access to federal and state resources to fund housing, public health and educational opportunities. After more than a century of hard work, the Chinook Nation was formally recognized at the end of the Clinton administration more than 20 years ago. This rightful recognition was rescinded by the George W. Bush administration just 18 months later in 2002. Rescinding federal recognition was a declaration that the tribe’s sovereignty no longer existed in the eyes of the government, and this decision has led to unconscionable realities for the Chinook people.
The present-day impacts of the historical oppression of the Chinook community are clear: stolen lands, removal from villages, forcing children to attend boarding schools and denial of access to subsistence on their own lands are all part of our story as a nation. And we refuse to let this ongoing oppression continue.
Each of our foundations has a deep commitment to Washington and Oregon. Through this work we have each found our way, through varying paths, to partnership with the Chinook Nation. Too often, we ask ourselves a familiar question: “Why must the work of justice, healing and reconciliation always rest on the shoulders of those oppressed?”
With so many lives on the line, federal recognition shouldn’t be this difficult to achieve. In fact, every tribe that participated in the Chehalis River Treaty negotiations, the 1855 negotiations asking tribal representatives to leave their land, is recognized by the federal government today. All except the Chinook.
Yet the story of the Chinook people persists, even through unjust treatment by the United States government, as documented by our nation’s leading law experts on this matter — including the U.S. Department of Interior. We have collectively seen the efforts and resilience of the Chinook Nation, and the decision to remedy this historical wrong now lies with Congress. The nation drafted a bill and garnered profound support from local leaders, nonprofits, elected officials and tens of thousands of people across America.
This includes the unanimous support by all county commissioners governing Pacific County, Wahkiakum County, Clatsop County, and at various points, all neighboring tribes, including but not limited to, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Shoalwater Bay Tribe, Chehalis Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde and many more.
This commitment is in partnership with Marguerite Casey Foundation, Arcora Foundation, Group Health Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Satterberg Foundation, Northwest Health Foundation and Empire Health Community Advocacy Fund. As foundations that partner and work primarily with organizations focused on communities of color, we are encouraged and excited to see incredible support and advocacy from grantees and organizations serving Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander and Asian communities across the Northwest. It is long overdue for Congress to consider the Chinook Nation restoration legislation — legislation that would restore the nation to its rightful place as a federally recognized tribe in the United States.
This legislation will also benefit the broader communities that also call the Chinook lands home. The restoration will assure a much-needed economic boost, enhancement of critical resources and protection of the Pacific Northwest’s environment that can only happen from having a recognized tribe properly seated at the mouth of the Columbia River.
We are urging U.S. lawmakers representing Washington and Oregon to take action, but this restoration legislation and bill has yet to be championed through passage and implementation.
Congress has the power to make this legislative change. We urge people everywhere to stand with us and urge Congress to correct this historic injustice. With the growing number of Americans across the nation who support this effort, it will be impossible for our representatives to ignore the Chinook Nation any longer.