Court upholds Chinook challenge for recognition
January 16, 2020
The federal district court for the Western District of Washington on Jan. 11 issued an order invalidating a Department of Interior rule that barred the Chinook Indian Nation from re-petitioning to restore its status as a federally recognized tribe.
In its order, the court agreed with the Chinook that the government’s rule barring new petitions by previously denied tribes was arbitrary and capricious because the rules for recognition changed after the Chinook were previously denied in 2002. The Chinook had argued that new rules for recognition enacted in 2015 were more favorable to petitioning tribes, and that they should not be bound by a decision made under old, inconsistent rules which the department itself described as broken. The court agreed the new rules are more favorable and that the agency’s reasons for barring new petitions by tribes like the Chinook were insufficient.
The Chinook Indian Nation and its five bands have resided in the lower Columbia region for millennia as a documented part of Pacific NW history, well-recorded in the journals of the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery. The Chinook nevertheless have fought to secure federal recognition of their tribal status in their indigenous homeland after Congress failed to ratify treaties negotiated with the five bands in 1851, with the government thereafter seizing Chinookan lands. The Chinook’s efforts culminated in January 2001 when the tribe was formally recognized after 21 years in the Department of Interior’s previous Acknowledgment process. That recognition was rescinded 18 months later by the incoming Bush administration upon an 11th hour protest from the Quinault.
In its ruling, the court sent the rule banning re-petitioning back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for reconsideration or else abandonment of the rule.
The Chinook Tribe continues to await a ruling from the court on the second part of its claim regarding Indian Trust Funds, as well as the government’s response to the judge’s order.