Chinook Indian Nation Reaffirmed as Sole Heirs to the Lower Chinook & Clatsop with Precedent-Setting Distribution

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WASHINGTON, DC – In a landmark legal victory, the Federal Courts, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Congress have confirmed the Chinook Indian Nation’s legal heirship to the settlement funds from their 1970 victory before the Indian Court of Claims. The claim, known as Docket 234, has been the subject of a legal fight since 2017, when the Nation filed suit in reaction to the BIA’s decision to deny access to these duly adjudicated funds because of the Chinook’s unclear federal status. Today’s victory sets the stage for the immediate dispersal of the funds to the Chinook Indian Nation (CIN), reaffirms the Nation as the rightful heirs of the Lower Chinook & Clatsop people, and resolves more than a century of legal battles for the Chinook Indian Nation to secure the title to their own territory.

In the 1890s, the Chinook hired their first attorneys to seek damages for the lands the United States government stole from their ancestors. After decades of legal battles, in 1970, the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) awarded $48,692.05 in compensation for lands stripped from the Lower Band of Chinook and Clatsop Indians in the 19th century. Members of the Chinook Indian Nation were acknowledged as the legitimate heirs to the Lower Chinook and Clatsop peoples in 1958 by the Indian Claims Commission, confirming their claim to the lands and compensation. But, after 41 years of compliance with the ICC’s 1970 decision, in 2011 the BIA intentionally stopped distributing the quarterly statements detailed in the trust fund. Their cited reason: the Chinook Indian Nation’s lack of federal recognition, which had been arbitrarily rescinded in 2001. 

“Our fight for federal recognition has lasted for over 120 years, and our justice is long overdue. We are the first people, the Indigenous people, of the mouth of the Columbia River, and are committed to preserving and continuing the legacy of our ancestors. The Docket 234 settlement not only acknowledges our historical claims to our homeland but also highlights the undeniable need for our federal recognition to be restored through the     Chinook Indian Nation Restoration Act of 2024,” said Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation. 

This decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs is crucial in affirming the Tribe's right to seek reparations for lands unjustly taken from their ancestors and further cements the Chinook Indian Nation’s status as a continuously legitimate tribe deserving of federal recognition. In addition to releasing funds to the Chinook Indian Nation, this legal victory also marks an unambiguous contemporaneous acknowledgement by the federal government, thus strengthening the Tribe’s efforts to regain their status as a federally recognized Tribe. The Use and Distribution Plan established for the Docket 234 Funds was approved by the BIA’s Northwest Regional Office, Main Interior in DC, Secretary Haaland, and Congress. 

The Chinook Indian Nation was federally recognized in 2001 at the end of the Clinton Administration after a decades-long campaign. However, 18 months later in 2002, their recognition was rescinded in an unprecedented decision.

During the 2022 midterm cycle, Congressional candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez pledged to introduce and champion legislation to restore the Chinook Indian Nation’s status as a federally recognized tribe. By passing a Chinook Restoration bill, elected officials will have an opportunity to end cultural erasure, support Indigenous rights, and recommit to a legacy of defending Native communities. 

Importantly, this legal victory also reinforces the Chinook Indian Nation’s right to acquire the Naselle Youth Camp. Through Docket 234, the BIA, Congress, and the Federal Courts reaffirmed the right of the Chinook to their ancestral lands, where the now defunct youth camp is located. By transferring ownership of the facility to the tribe, the State of Washington will begin to make reparations for nearly two centuries of harm to Indigenous communities. 

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