Commission OK's Chinook recognition resolution by 2-1 vote


By a 2-1 vote, Wahkiakum County's board of commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution supporting federal recognition of the Chinook Indian Nation.

Commissioners also discussed covid-19 issues with members of the public and addressed staffing issues at the Community Center in Cathlamet.

Chinookan bands signed a treaty with the US government in 1851 but it was never ratified. Tribal members have sought federal recognition to qualify them for federal benefits for native peoples. The Clinton Administration granted that recognition 2001, but the following Bush Administration rescinded it 18 months later.

The tribe is now seeking support for legislation in Congress to grant the recognition, and tribal members have sought formal support from local governmental entities in the region. The Cathlamet Town Council and Pacific and Cowlitz counties reportedly have already adopted these resolutions, and Clatsop County in Oregon is considering a supportive resolution.

The Wahkiakum County resolution recites tribal history, tribal members' contributions to their surrounding communities, and the withdrawal of recognition. It ends by "that the important historical and continuing influence of the Chinook Indian Nation on the Pacific Northwest is recognized, and the county is fully supportive of the Chinook Indian Nation and their effort to clarify their federal status."

Commissioner Lee Tischer moved for the board to adopt the resolution. Discussion followed.

A member of the audience asked what rights and privileges tribal members would gain through recognition.

Commission Chair Gene Strong replied that could include some hunting and fishing privileges and others.

Cathlamet Town Council Member David Olson, who sponsored a similar resolution for the council, added that the benefits would include health care services and access to historical sites important to tribal heritage.

The region would benefit financially, Olson added, as funding for tribal services, such as broadband support, came to tribal members and spread into the economy.

"It would correct an injustice of many years standing," he said. "In my view, Wahkiakum County has nothing to lose."

Strong called for a second to the motion, and when none came, he seconded it.

"I still have concerns about hunting and fishing rights," said Commissioner Dan Cothren. He said he is concerned that access to hunting and fishing might be limited.

Two tribal members responded.

"The recognition would have no impact on fishing and hunting rights," said Rachel Cushman. "We've already addressed these concerns."

Tribal members would be better able to protect and care for their children, she said. They would help enhance the environment, including fishery enhancement, to the benefit of all residents.

Tribal Chair Tony Johnson added that the region would benefit financially. Lack of tribal recognition cost the region about $135 million in federal covid-19 relief funds, he said.

"We have a right to exist in our territory," he said. "Please support this."

Strong called for a vote on the resolution; he and Tischer voted in favor and Cothren opposed.

In other business:

--Members of the audience urged commissioners to take strong stands against state and federal mandates including covid-19 vaccinations, teaching critical race theory, and what was called sex education for kindergarteners. They questioned health department spending on advertising supporting covid-19 vaccinations and urged commissioners to research the adverse impacts of covid-19 vaccines.

--County Health & Human Services Operations Manager Duncan Cruickshank announced that the employee staffing the Community Center in Cathlamet had resigned and the position will remain vacant for the moment because there is no budget for a replacement.

Under an interlocal agreement, the county and Town of Cathlamet jointly support the center; the town covers utility and maintenance costs, and the county has been responsible for staffing.

"There is considerable momentum towards closing the center to all but the existing groups," Cruickshank said.

Commissioners said they would consult with town officials about center operations, and Strong asked Cruickshank to provide financial analysis for future discussion.


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