Pamunkey nation looks to future after gaining federal recognition

After a 30-year struggle, the Pamunkey Indian tribe is first in Virginia to earn federal status

By Jackson McMillan, Tidewater Review

Acting Chief of the Pamunkey Indian tribe Robert Gray said the tribe has its work cut out navigating the new opportunities and programs the Pamunkey people are eligible for now that they are among the more than 500 tribal nations recognized by the federal government.

“The real challenge now is figuring out what our options are,” Gray said during a phone interview. “There are so many agencies and programs it’s like a smorgasbord of programs.”

On July 2, the federal government extended recognition to the Pamunkey Indian tribe, making it the first Virginia tribe to achieve such recognition.

In the wake of the announcement, former Pamunkey Indian Chief Kevin Brown, who has helped the tribe in its 30-year quest for such recognition, tendered his resignation as chief.

“It’s been a long hard road in getting the federal recognition, and I’m passing the torch to another member,” he said, adding that it is time for someone else to take up their own cause to advance the tribe.

Under Pamunkey law, Assistant Chief Gray will take over as acting chief and perform all of the duties of the chief. Gray said the Pamunkey will elect a new chief Aug. 6.

The tribe, which has 203 members, has proven that it meets seven mandatory criteria for federal recognition and will join the 566 other federally recognized tribal nations across the country. The process included collecting historical governing documents, tracing the lineage of tribe members and proving the tribe has lived as a distinct community with its own political influence since 1900, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“This work reflects the most solemn responsibilities of the United States,” said Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in announcing the decision. “Our professional historians, anthropologists, and genealogists spent thousands of hours of staff time researching and applying our rigorous acknowledgment criteria to these petitions.”

Overcoming obstacles

The Pamunkey first applied for full federal recognition in 1982, Brown said.

Washburn’s decision was a defeat for numerous groups that had opposed the petition, including the Congressional Black Caucus as well as gaming and anti-gaming interests worried about the potential for the tribe to construct a gambling complex on the 1,200-acre Pamunkey reservation.

In January, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus voiced their opposition to federal recognition of the Pamunkey, asking Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to postpone the decision until the Justice Department investigated claims of discriminatory practices by the tribe.

The point of contention was in regard to an old tribal law that stated, “No member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe shall intermarry with any (sic) Nation except White or Indian under penalty of forfeiting their rights in Town.”

Brown said the tribe repealed the law in 2012. “We hadn’t enforced that law in generations and did away with it before it got out.” According to Brown, the common rationale for the ban is that it was rooted in Virginia’s culture of racism, which, at the time, used racial intermixture as a means to deprive Native Americans of their ancestral lands.

The Association of American Convenience Stores also expressed fears that federally acknowledged tribes will result in competition for stores already located near reservations if a tribe decided to open a similar business on tribal lands, the reason being tribes would not have to charge taxes and a store could undercut prices.

Support for a historic tribe

But many historians and ethnologists have long argued that the descendants of the most powerful tribe to confront Capt. John Smith and the first English settlers at Jamestown deserved official federal status.

“The Pamunkey retained their original lands — their ancestral lands from the time before the English arrived — and they were the only group to do so. They’ve maintained their treaties with the government — treaties that go all the way back to the English and the 1600s,” said Buck Woodard, head of the American Indian Initiative at Colonial Williamsburg.

“If you want to know how important the Pamunkey and its leaders were — just look at how the English referred to them: They called them ‘The House of Pamunkey.’ And they’re still a special group today.”

Retired Virginia Department of Historic Resources archaeologist E. Randolph Turner II makes many of the same arguments, citing the tribe’s links to such historical figures as Powhatan, Opechancanough and Pocahontas.

Brown said Gov. Terry McAuliffe called him July 2 to personally congratulate the Pamunkey on their historic achievement.

In a statement issued by the Office of the Governor, McAuliffe lauded the decision.

“I want to congratulate members of the Pamunkey tribe on their tireless efforts to ensure that they receive the federal recognition that they deserve.” The governor’s statement also said he has supported federal recognition of the Pamunkey and recently sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affair backing their efforts.

McAuliffe said he hopes the Pamunkey tribe’s achievement will help enact the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, a bipartisan bill that would grant federal recognition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi — also located in King William County — Rappahannock, Monacan, and Nansemond Indian tribes. These tribes have been recognized by the state, but not the federal government.

In a joint statement, Virginia’s U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine hailed the announcement by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They are also cooperating on the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act.

“I congratulate the Pamunkey Indian Tribe on finally receiving this long-overdue federal recognition,” Warner said. “This historic milestone also reminds us of the work that remains before us to correct the injustices committed against Virginia Indian tribes. Senator Kaine and I will keep urging our colleagues in the Senate to pass our legislation to ensure that the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe also get the federal recognition that they deserve.”

Members of the King William County Board of Supervisors also commended the Pamunkey on their recognition.

“I think it’s a great victory for the tribe, which made the first contact with British settlers 400 years ago, to finally have federal recognition,” said District 2 Supervisor Travis Moskalski.

Full federal recognition now allows Pamunkey tribal members to apply for a variety of programs, such as health and housing services, as well as educational and higher-learning opportunities.

Plans for the future

Brown said there is a 90-day waiting period before tribal members can begin benefiting from such programs, and it may be years before the Pamunkey are able to construct buildings they’re provided funding for, such as a health clinic. However, Brown said the Pamunkey are eligible to use facilities and services at the reservations of other federally recognized tribes.

Brown also quelled suspicions by many that the Pamunkey were planning to build a casino, which is permitted under full recognition.

“Look around,” Brown said gesturing to the line of trees and rows of crops that make up a sizable portion of land on the reservation. “There’s no place for a casino here.” Brown also said the Pamunkey hired a consultant to examine whether or not the reservation’s thoroughfares could handle the traffic a casino would undoubtedly bring. It was determined the investment from reconstructing roads and building a casino would not be feasible.

Gray said as much, saying the Pamunkey lack the infrastructure for a casino.

“We want to modernize, yes, but we’re country people and we like it that way,” Gray said. “For the long term we’re looking for options that benefit the tribe and allow us to be an independent sovereign nation. There’s a multitude of paths we can take but a casino is not one of them.”

“More than anything being recognized is historic vindication,” Brown said.

“Virginia tried to write us out, and this decision vindicates not only the Pamunkey, but every tribe that made up the Powhatan Confederacy. It gives our people legitimacy and it will benefit them down the road.”

When asked about the relevance of the decision coinciding with Independence Day, Brown chuckled.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” he said. “I guess maybe there’s a little bit of poetic justice there.”

McMillan can be reached by phone at 757-298-4136.


30-year struggle

•1982: The Pamunkey Indian tribe applies for full federal recognition.

•2009: The Pamunkey file a letter of intent to petition the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition.

•August 2012: The BIA issues the Pamunkey “active consideration” for full recognition.

•January 2014: The Pamunkey earn preliminary federal recognition.

•January 2015: The Congressional Black Caucus asks the BIA to delay the decision and investigate the Pamunkey for discriminatory practices.

•March 2015: The BIA extends its deadline for a final determination on federal recognition of the Pamunkey.

•July 2, 2015: The Pamunkey become the first federally recognized tribe in the commonwealth of Virginia.

– See more at:,0,923109,full.story#sthash.Lsp8Jnwa.dpuf


Eastern Pequot chairman vows to fight new tribal recognition rule

By Brian Hallenbeck, TheDay

North Stonington — Dennis Jenkins, chairman of the Eastern Pequot Tribe, on Monday decried the “dirty politics” he said stand to prevent his tribe from getting another shot at federal recognition.

Responding for the first time to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s adoption of a new “rule” governing the recognition process for Indian tribes, Jenkins said “backroom dealings” in Washington had ensured that Connecticut tribes that had been denied recognition in the past would not get the opportunity to reapply for the coveted status that would make them eligible for federal assistance and enable them to pursue casino development.

Jenkins, in a phone interview, also revealed that Katherine Sebastian Dring, a longtime tribal councilor with a background in education and the law, will succeed him as chairman later this month.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Jenkins said, referring to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ removal from the final rule a provision that would have allowed three state-recognized tribes in Connecticut — the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts — to reapply for recognition. A draft of the rule had also included a provision that would have allowed parties to a successful appeal of a tribe’s recognition to block that tribe’s reapplication. The Easterns won recognition in 2002, only to have it withdrawn three years later after the state and the towns of North Stonington, Ledyard and Preston objected.

Jenkins testified last year against the so-called “third-party veto” provision, which most observers believed would have been found unconstitutional.

“Everyone knew it was in trouble,” Jenkins said of the provision. “But it doesn’t make sense that tribes can’t repetition, whether they go to the back of the line, or the front of the line. There are tribes that were denied at first and then got recognized. The Mohegans were denied, but they were able to submit additional documentation and they got recognized.”

Jenkins said Connecticut’s elected leaders, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation, pressured the BIA to prevent the Connecticut tribes from filing new applications for recognition. But, Jenkins said, when the Easterns sought to meet in Washington with Kevin Washburn, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs, they were turned away.

“They got to the president and the bureau,” he said of the politicians. “But Blumenthal and his co-conspirators shouldn’t be doing their high-fives and partying just yet. We’re not going to go down without a fight.”

Leaders of the Schaghticokes and the Golden Hill Paugussetts expressed similar sentiments in the wake of the BIA’s adoption of the new federal-recognition rule.

Jenkins said Eastern Pequot tribal members who are attorneys are looking into ways the tribe can fight the rule.

Elected in 2013 to complete the term of Brian Geer, the former chairman charged with embezzling from the tribe, Jenkins decided some time ago to not seek re-election. He said Sebastian Dring, the tribal council’s corresponding secretary, was the only eligible candidate for the post and would be elected July 25 at the tribe’s annual meeting. Sebastian Dring will not comment on tribal matters until then, Jenkins said.

“Kathy is a very capable person who knows the tribe’s petition inside and out,” he said.

At the annual meeting, tribal members will discuss and vote on a proposed development project that Jenkins declined to identify.

“We’re broke. We need to generate some funding,” he said.

As chairman, Jenkins has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t believe the tribe should pursue a casino if it ever gains federal recognition.

“We would never give up the right to open a casino, but there are so many other economic development projects,” he said. “We have several people interested in working with the tribe on things other than casinos.”

Connecticut officials praise changes on tribal recognition

By Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s top elected leaders are declaring victory in their efforts to see that it does not become easier for local American Indian tribes to obtain federal recognition.

President Barack Obama‘s administration on Monday issued changes to regulations that have been criticized as cumbersome and lacking transparency. Proposed new rules that were first issued in draft form two years ago were seen by officials in Connecticut as clearing the way for three groups that previously had been denied federal recognition to win the prized status.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that revisions in the final version will prevent those groups from winning recognition and pressing claims for surrounding lands.

“I would like to thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for heeding our concerns,” Malloy said.

He said the changes ensure that groups in Connecticut that already have fallen short of recognition will be blocked from another attempt.

Connecticut has two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, which own the country’s two largest Indian-owned casinos in the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

The changes that were initially proposed were seen as benefiting three other Connecticut tribes — the Schaghticokes of Kent, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull and Colchester and the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. Federal acknowledgment can bolster a tribe’s claims to surrounding land, eliminate regulatory barriers to commercial development and bring increased health and education benefits to members.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation said they were pleased the Bureau of Indian Affairs reversed course on a plan that would have given another chance to previously denied petitioners.

“That severely flawed proposal would have forced residents, communities and the state to re-litigate petitions already dismissed with substantial evidence and review — causing needless uncertainty for landowners whose properties may have been claimed as reservation land,” they said.

Leaders of the tribal groups that had been hoping for a new path to recognition did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Chinook Indian Nation elects new leader

Chinook Indian Nation chooses new leader at annual meeting; former tribal council chair Ray Gardner died earlier this year.

By Katie Wilson, Chinook Observer

DAMIAN MULINIX/dmulinix@chinookobserver.comTony Johnson tells the Chinook legend of Coyote and the first salmon Friday.
Tony Johnson tells the Chinook legend of Coyote and the first salmon Friday.

As the Chinook Indian Nation continues to push for federal recognition, it does so with a new leader in place.

On June 18, tribal members present at an annual meeting elected Tony Johnson as chairman of the 10-member tribal council. Johnson ran unopposed and will take over the leadership role formerly held by Ray Gardner, who died in February after a

long struggle with lung disease.

“There’s a long chain of chairmen for the Chinook Indian Nation and it’s an absolute honor to be now one of the links of that chain,” Johnson said in a phone interview June 22. “I can’t say enough how privileged I feel to be trusted with that role and the significance of it doesn’t escape me.”

The Chinook Indian Nation represents a range of people who traditionally resided in the Lower Columbia region, including the Cathlamet, Clatsop, Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum and Willapa.

Vice Chairman Sam Robinson’s name was also down for nomination as chairman, but Robinson, who had taken on the role of acting chairman as Gardner’s health declined, said he felt it was time to hand off that position to someone else, preferably someone in Pacific County.

“It’d be hard to fill our former chairman’s shoes,” Robinson said. “He was my cousin, my friend, my mentor and my tribal leader as well. … He had a style all his own.” He had numerous contacts at the state and federal level and was well-known in the region.

“It might take Tony a few months to get his feet settled in, but I think he’ll be just fine,” Robinson said, adding that though Johnson and Gardner differ in their leadership styles, Johnson brings a wealth of contacts and knowledge from his time spent working with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Shoalwater Bay Tribe to his tenure.

A member of the tribe since he was 3-months old, Johnson is steeped in the culture, speaking the language and singing traditional songs at tribal ceremonies. He has been the member of the tribe’s culture committee for 20 years and that committee’s chairman for most of that time.

His father, Gary Johnson, also a member of the tribal council, said he is proud and happy.

“We look forward to having a very strong council that’s going to continue to make more progress for our tribe,” he said in a phone interview June 22.

At the meeting, the tribe also voted to fill several open council positions: Devon Abing and Jessica Porter were elected to the council, while Gina Rife and Gary Johnson retained their seats.

Former Chairman Gardner was 59 when he died. He had been an active participant in tribal leadership for 13 years. During his time as leader, he oversaw a successful effort to have the tribe’s Middle Village included as prominent unit within Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and the tribe also came close to attaining official tribal status within the U.S. federal system.

This last is a fight the council plans to continue.

“It’s all about clarifying our status and putting in place some of the key pieces that we need for a successful future,” Johnson said.

Already, he has helped organize and launch a campaign called “The Chinook Executive Justice Recognition Project,” which sends a letter a day to President Obama, building a case for Chinook recognition. Despite appearing in numerous first-person accounts by early explorers including the famed Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, the tribe is not federally recognized.

After fighting for recognition for more than a century, the tribe attained formal federal status in 2001 in the final days of the Bill Clinton administration only to have it disappear again when incoming appointees of the George W. Bush White House determined the tribe did not meet all the criteria required by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The BIA last year revised the criteria and the methodology it uses to evaluate tribes seeking recognition so the Chinook have redoubled their efforts.

“One of the things we’ve said consistently is that we have all the problems associated with ‘Indian Country’ and Indian communities,” Johnson said.


Keeping the faith


The tribe struggles to maintain its cultural heritage in world that, officially, doesn’t recognize it. Unlike other Pacific Northwest tribes, the Chinook have no land rights or fishing rights. The tribe’s office is minimally staffed and can only provide bare-bones services to the Chinook community. The council chairperson position — and virtually every leadership position within the tribe — is volunteer-based.

“It’s all about survival, finding the funds and making the contacts,” Robinson said.

Johnson hopes to focus some of his time ono pursing grants to help fund and expand the community services provided by the tribal office.

“We’ve often said our folks are quiet folks and we’re not ones that typically jump up and bang the table out in public for what is right and what needs to happen,” Johnson said. “There are a few of us who have been put in that role and I want to speak up for those folks (who) have passed away or are still with us who, because of traditional values or from having been pushed down and out of the way for so many years, haven’t been able to say what’s the truth: that the Chinook have been pushed aside.”

Local tribes continue fight for federal recognition

By Jacob Batte, The Courier

HOUMA, La. (AP) – For local Indian tribes seeking federal recognition, congressional pushback is disappointing, but nothing new.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is demanding the Obama administration hold off on new rules that could make it easier for Indian groups to win federal recognition as tribes.

American Indians have been pushing for years to revise the process, but proposed regulations nearing the finish line have deeply divided existing tribes and Congress.

Bishop says he’s prepared to use every tool at his disposal to block enactment of the regulations. He criticized the Interior Department for forwarding the regulations to the Office of Management and Budget for final approval last week. He said the administration has ignored lawmakers’ requests to hold off on the rules until Congress has a chance to review them.

Albert Naquin, chief of the Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, which includes about 600 members, said he’s saddened by the lengths some politicians have gone to hold tribes back.

Asked to comment on the efforts of people like Bishop, whom Naquin likened to anti-Indian President Andrew Jackson, he said he didn’t know how to answer the question, “but to get mad and express my real opinion.”

Federal recognition has been granted to 566 American tribes, and it is sought by others because of the health and education benefits it brings to tribal members, along with opportunities for commercial development.

Under the current recognition process, which dates back to 1978, the Interior Department has recognized 17 tribes and denied 34 requests, including the United Houma Nation in 1996 because, according to the government’s judgment, the tribe failed to prove it had an unbroken connection to the historic Houma tribe.

The Houma Nation, which boasts some 17,000 members, is recognized by the state but has tried since the 1970s to win federal recognition, which tribal leaders say could open the door to grants to address poverty and improve education.

The Lafourche and Terrebonne parish councils have expressed support for both tribes as well as the Pointe-au-Chien tribe.

The tribe isn’t looking for “a check in everyone’s hands” but rather the chance for proper education, health care and a sense of solace knowing where they live won’t vanish into the sea, said Houma Nation Principal Chief Thomas Dardar.

Dardar said the tribe is looking for around 300 acres of land, but 10 acres at the start of the process. Federal recognition would aid in that goal, he said.

The fight for recognition is expensive to the tribes, Naquin said. His tribe has spent money it doesn’t have to research put together the proposal.

A proposed rule issued 11 months ago changes some of the thresholds groups would need to meet to be federally recognized as a tribe. For example, the proposed regulation reduced how far back in time a tribe must demonstrate it has been a distinct political entity with authority over its members.

The National Congress of American Indians, whose members include leaders from dozens of tribes, is supporting the administration’s efforts.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have expressed concern about the cost to the federal government and how approval of new tribes could alter the casino landscape in their home states.

“They think it’s about casinos, which have benefited a lot of tribes in a lot of ways. Not every tribe has casinos,” Dardar said. “That’s not even on our radar. … We’re worried about land loss and becoming more resilient.”

Existing tribes have also raised the casino issue and say that adding tribes would stretch already scarce federal resources allocated for health care, education and housing for Native Americans.

Dardar does share Bishop’s concern over easing the process of obtaining federal recognition. While there’s too much red tape now, he said, it shouldn’t be so easy that “anyone can come along and say we’re a tribe.”

Local tribes are optimistic their fight for federal recognition will soon prove fruitful.

Naquin said his tribe has employed someone to write up its proposal for federal recognition, and he believes it meets all the criteria. Now, he said, it’s a matter of putting it all together in the formal application.

“We did our research and we’ve got it done,” Naquin said. “We’re doing everything we can so they can’t come back and deny us.”

Area Southern Cherokees seek federal recognition

After 12 years of research and documentation on their rich cultural heritage, a group of local Southern Cherokee Indians recently mailed three boxes full of paperwork to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

SubmittedMembers of the Southern Cherokee tribe recently mailed the first of two shipments of documentation to the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs in an effort to be re-recognized as a federal Indian tribe. Front row, from left, are Herman Paul, Darla Matthews and Chuck Wilcox. Back row, from left, are Karen Paul, Bill Tyler, Johnnie Gray and Steve Matthews.
Members of the Southern Cherokee tribe recently mailed the first of two shipments of documentation to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs in an effort to be re-recognized as a federal Indian tribe. Front row, from left, are Herman Paul, Darla Matthews and Chuck Wilcox. Back row, from left, are Karen Paul, Bill Tyler, Johnnie Gray and Steve Matthews.

By Eddie O’Neill, The Rolla Daily News

After 12 years of research and documentation on their rich cultural heritage, a group of local Southern Cherokee Indians recently mailed three boxes full of paperwork to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The boxes were sent off on May 1 in hopes that the tribe will be re-recognized by the United States government.

“We began our research at the Library of Congress,” said Southern Cherokee Chief Steve Matthews. “We visited numerous historical societies, state archives and read books to make sure we got our story right. We also went through three computers in the process.”

The tribe boasts 500 members, the majority of which live in the south central Missouri region. While the group’s headquarters is in Webber Falls, Oklahoma, a branch office is located in Newburg.

“We are kind of a forgotten people,” said Matthews. “We were first recognized by the government with the (Cherokee) Treaty of 1866.”

However, Matthews added, recognition by treaty did not put the tribe on the Federal Register – a directory of government-recognized U.S. Indian tribes.

The review process by the Bureau of Indian Affairs could take two years or as much of 40 years. Federal recognition will allow the local tribe to receive federal benefits which include health insurance and housing. However, Matthews told The Rolla Daily News that even more important would be the ability to pass down the tribe’s heritage to the next generation.

“We got to talking and thought how could we look at our grandchildren and say, ‘We didn’t try?'”

As Matthews and a core group of Southern Cherokees combed through genealogies and other historical records over the last decade, they discovered a lot of history they didn’t know about.

Their name comes from the fact that they fought with the South during the Civil War. After the war, the Cherokee Nation split with some staying on their land in the South, while others moved west of the Mississippi River. The Southern Cherokee eventually ended up settling in Missouri. However, they were not welcomed here.

At the time, Missouri had laws to prevent Indians from moving into or hunting in the state of Missouri without a pass from a government Indian agent. Indians could not purchase or own land in the state. The State Militia was also called out to remove Indians when they were found on white landowners’ property.

It wasn’t until 1924 when tribal Indians could vote.”Our ancestors didn’t talk about our heritage,” recalled Southern Cherokee council speaker Bill Tyler. “We were here illegally—not allowed in the state of Missouri. When we were kids, we were taught not to be seen or heard from strangers because we would be found out.”

Even as the tribe began talking about beginning the process for this federal recognition, there were some in the older generation who were leery or hesitant to “stir up the pot.”

Throughout this process, Matthews explained that local Southern Cherokees have received much support from local officials all the way up to members of Congress.

Southern Cherokee member Chuck Wilcox said that the younger generation has been interested in learning their family history and have been supportive of the application process.The tribe here in Phelps County tries to gather at least once a year.

“It’s like a family reunion,” Wilcox noted.

Over the last few years the tribe has had a float in the Celebration of Nations parade.  Wilcox said that has been a good public relations move as locals have learned that there are American Indians right here in their backyard.

“While we want to receive government  benefits,” he said, “we also want to have our kids know their family history and to educate the public on who we are.”

Quest for federal recognition puts regional tribes at odds


Canoes from the Snohomish tribe and Chinook Indian Nation head down the Columbia River near Kalama in June 2013. Photo/ Roger Werth, TDN
Canoes from the Snohomish tribe and Chinook Indian Nation head down the Columbia River near Kalama in June 2013.
Photo/ Roger Werth, TDN

By Brooks Johnson, The Daily News

In a fight for federal recognition, the Chinook Indian Nation and Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes are each bringing their own history books to the debate.

A bill introduced in Congress this year would recognize Oregon’s Clatsop-Nehalem tribes, granting them the same rights to sovereignty and self-determination as the more than 550 other federally recognized Native American tribes.

That doesn’t sit well with the leaders of the Chinook Nation — 3,000 members comprising Cathlamet, Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum, Willapa and Clatsop tribes. They say the Clatsop-Nehalem are historically part of the Chinook Nation and that recognizing them separately would undercut the Chinooks’ 160-year-old drive for federal recognition.

“We want people to know we are the Clatsop people, and when it comes to that tip of Oregon there (the Lower Columbia), we’re there and we’re not going away,” said Sam Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Nation. “To have a group just come out of nowhere is a little bit disturbing.”

But Clatsop-Nehalem Council member David Stowe said the group hasn’t come out of nowhere, and that the history of the confederated tribes has been well-documented.

“The Chinook have a history of sour grapes,” Stowe said. “… but our restoration doesn’t impact the rights of anybody. They’ll have exactly what they have right now, and we hope they get restoration as well.”

At stake for both tribes is the ability to become sovereign and restore rights to land, hunting and fishing rights as well as partake in services offered by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Competing press releases sent out in September from both tribal councils disagree on the history of the Clatsop people.

The Chinook Nation says its 1950 constitution was drafted by its five member tribes in reference to 1851 treaties, and the federal government recognized the Clatsop’s relationship with the Lower Chinook in 1958.

“The history with the Clatsop-Nehalem is pretty fresh, compared to thousands of years of history the Chinook folks have,” Robinson said.

But the Clatsop-Nehalem say that despite centuries of trade along the Columbia River and marriages with other tribes, the Clatsop have been a distinct entity since before Europeans arrived.

About 25 percent of Chinook enrollment is Clatsop, according to the Chinook Nation, and any splintering could lessen those numbers.

“We just feel it’s not right. Because they won’t take all of our folks” for federal recognition, Robinson said.

The Clatsop-Nehalem don’t see the problem, however.

“Clatsop that are enrolled with the Chinook, Quinault, Grand Ronde or Chehalis tribes or other tribes are free to choose their enrollment status,” the Clatsop-Nehalem press release reads. “Our restoration will not change their status or member benefits in any way. We have no desire to make any claims of any kind in the Chinook homeland in Washington.”

Those of Clatsop descent may also have other tribal connections in their bloodline. Robinson gave the example that he is descended from Lower Chinook, Willapa Chinook and Chehalis tribes. The amount of ancestry needed to enroll in a tribe is up to individual tribes’ governments.

BIA Northwest Regional Director Stan Speaks says it’s impossible to know what will happen before recognition is granted, and it is “premature to think fellow members are going to abandon one group and go with the other.”

The restoration bill before Congress, introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), asks for little more than recognition. Land, hunting and fishing rights have all been left out of the equation.

“That’s very contentious,” said Stowe, the Clatsop council member. “(Asking for more) creates a whole whirlwind and lessens our chances of restoration. At the end of the day what’s important to us, what’s important for our identity is recognition of our tribe.”

The term restoration is used by both sides of the debate. The Clatsop and Nehalem tribes were “terminated” by the federal government in the 1950s under the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act. That severed ties between the government and the tribes in a new policy toward Native Americans. The policy was later reversed for many of the terminated tribes, excepting the Clatsop and Nehalem. Stowe says the act of termination is recognition in and of itself because the Clatsop and Nehalem tribes are listed in the law.

The five tribes of the Chinook Nation — including the Clatsop — were recognized at the end of the Clinton administration, only to have the status revoked 18 months later by the Bush administration.

“We felt it was an injustice for them to be recognized and have it yanked form them, that was horrible, and it was equally an injustice we were terminated in 1954,” Stowe said.

The argument between the groups is centered around those living north or south of the Columbia River, though both sides agree that the divide can be arbitrary.

Dick Basch, the vice chairman of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes, supports efforts to get his tribes recognized, but he is “saddened” by the fighting it has caused.

“We are Lower Columbia Indians that should be supporting each other and working for the benefit of all of us,” Basch said. “We’re all Indian people and just because some of our families went south and others went north doesn’t mean that we have to battle each other.”

Robinson and the Chinook agree on the principle of unity.

“Some folks say, “Well they’re Oregon Clatsop or they’re Washington Clatsop.’ … But the river wasn’t a divider — it was just a highway for us.”

Connecticut presses BIA to scrap Indian recognition proposal

By Ana Radelat, The Connecticut Mirror

Washington — The administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to scrap proposed rule changes the state believes could lead to recognition of additional Indian tribes in Connecticut.

The BIA has been considering the rule changes for months. The state says the changes could open the door to large land claims and expanded Indian gaming in Connecticut. Yet Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, has said he’s determined to fix what he’s called a “broken” federal recognition process.

The federal tribal recognition rules in place require a tribe to prove its continuous community and political authority since first contact with European settlers. Washburn’s proposal would change that to allow a petitioning tribe to demonstrate it has maintained a state reservation since 1934. Washburn‘s new regulation would also allow tribes that have been denied recognition to apply again.

“The proposed rules represent a dramatic departure from the standards and process governing acknowledgment decisions for nearly 40 years,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in comments filed before a midnight deadline Tuesday. “If adopted as proposed, petitioners could gain recognition in circumstances completely at odds with fundamental principles of tribal acknowledgement. These proposals…are unjustified and should be rejected.”

A new, final Indian recognition rule will be posted within 60 days. It could be modified again based on the comments of the Malloy administration and others, including Connecticut’s tribes.

Gov. Malloy, the Connecticut congressional delegation and most of the state’s political establishment, have pushed back harder than anyone on the proposed rules, even after the BIA changed them to include a provision aimed at blocking three tribes that have long sought recognition in Connecticut — the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes and possibly the Golden Hill Paugussetts.

The BIA had given the Eastern Pequot and Schanghticoke tribes acknowledgement, then withdrew it after an appeal by the state.

At the behest of Connecticut officials, the proposed rules were modified so those who opposed the tribes’ recognition previously would have veto power over a new attempt at recognition.

That infuriated Connecticut’s tribes.

“The BIA failed to consider the long, oppressive history of the state of Connecticut,” wrote Kathleen Sebastian Dring, an elder of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, in her comments to the agency.

Dring told the BIA that, “The third-party veto undermines the BIA’s attempt to create an equitable and objective process for the tribes” and was “imposed by the BIA after political pressure from Connecticut.”

“As citizens [Eastern Pequot tribal members] are entitled to the equal protection of laws in accordance to the U.S. Constitution,” Dring said.

Chief Richard Velky of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation told the BIA that giving third parties the right to object to new petitions for federal acknowledgement “does not, I believe, comport with the due process and equal protection principles of our Constitution.”

“Nor does the U.S. Constitution provide that a state and its political subdivisions may exercise an absolute veto over the exercise of constitutional authority vested exclusively in the United States government,” Velky wrote.

Meanwhile, Jepsen said the veto provision isn’t a comprehensive enough protection to keep the Connecticut’s tribes from suing the state if it doesn’t  consent to recognition, and “the outcome (of the litigation) is uncertain.”

Jepsen also said he is concerned the proposed regulations wouldn’t block “splinter groups” of Indian tribes from seeking recognition.

Under the proposed rules, the Schagticoke Indian Tribe, a group of Indians that rejected the leadership of the Schagticoke Indian Nation, might be able to apply for federal acknowledgement – and since they were never denied recognition, no veto provision would apply.

Jepsen also called the proposed elimination of the Board of Indian Appeals, which allowed Connecticut to challenge the Eastern Pequot and Schaghticoke recognitions “patently unfair.”

The BIA had granted a Malloy administration request for more time to submit its public comments. The deadline was pushed back from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

The entire Connecticut congressional delegation signed a letter that supported the administration’s objections to the proposed recognition rules.

“We…agree the process should be improved,” the letter said, but it recommended more transparency and perhaps a bigger budget, instead of “weakening the longstanding standards for federal recognition.”

The letter backed all of the Malloy administration’s objections and asked the BIA to eliminate the proposal that allowed rejected tribes to petition again for recognition, because the consent requirement or third-party veto, would be challenged in court.

“We note that at least one party is objecting to the consent requirement, contending it may be unconstitutional,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

In all, 255 comments were filed. Many came from tribes and most, like the comment from the National Congress of American Indians, supported Washburn’s efforts.

“Connecticut politicians and their special interests seek to derail justice for Native Americans,” said an unsigned comment. “Please don’t allow the process to become politicized by special interests BIA. Stick to what you believe is fair to Native American tribes.”

Kaine urges Bureau of Indian Affairs to be more flexible in recognizing Va. tribes

The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Virginia — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine is arguing anew for federal recognition of Virginia’s Indian tribes.

The Virginia Democrat is appealing to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding the federal acknowledgement of American Indian tribes. He’s encouraging the bureau to adopt greater flexibility in its recognition process to overcome the barriers Virginia’s tribes have confronted.

One hurdle to recognition is that many of the tribes’ records were held in courthouses that were burned during the Civil War.

Kaine and Sen. Mark R. Warner introduced legislation in 2013 to grant federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes. A companion bill in the House was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

Kaine says he continues to push for passage of the legislation.

Stillaguamish Tribe gets ‘long overdue’ reservation


By Kari Bray, Herald


ARLINGTON — The Stillaguamish Tribe finally has a reservation, a federal designation tribe leaders say is long overdue.

The reservation spans 64 acres from the Angel of the Winds Casino to 236th Street Northeast.

“It kind of gives us that anchor on the map,” tribal Chairman Shawn Yanity said.

A reservation is an area recognized by the U.S. government as a permanent homeland for a Native American tribe. A tribe can be recognized by the government without having a reservation.

There are nearly 300 members of the Stillaguamish Tribe. It’s been 38 years since the tribe gained federal recognition, and at least 28 since leaders first tried to establish a reservation.

Their first attempt was rejected by the U.S. government because one of the properties did not meet all the requirements for being a tribal trust land, meaning the federal government owns the land but the tribe manages its use.

For years, the tribe stopped pushing for a reservation.

“Things had stalled due to many factors,” Yanity said, including “the inner workings with the (U.S.) Department of the Interior and the tribe’s leadership at the time.”

The Stillaguamish built the Angel of the Winds Casino on tribal land where gaming was permitted under federal law. Members of the tribe found homes throughout Snohomish County, many in Arlington, Stanwood and Marysville.

Establishing a reservation was put on hold. It’s a lengthy process with no guarantee of success.

But this year, the Stillaguamish tried again, and succeeded.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs released its Stillaguamish Reservation Proclamation on July 30.

“It lets people know we’re obviously here. It encompasses the area that is already commercialized around the casino,” said Jon Hare, who manages real estate for the tribe. “I think really what it does is put a bold line on it jurisdictionally.”

Having a reservation doesn’t change much for day-to-day operations in the tribe, Yanity said. But it’s part of the process for pulling the tribe together and centralizing services like public safety, healthcare and a community center.

Tribal trust lands are somewhat scattered, Hare said, but the tribe hopes to unify.

“We really just want to have the land and make it all one piece instead of all these scattered parcels,” he said. “I think the tribe, now that there’s a reservation, we’re not scattered and we know where we want to plan.”

Having a reservation can also help the tribe qualify for grants or public safety funding specifically earmarked for reservations, Yanity said.

The tribe may try to expand the Stillaguamish Reservation in the future. “We started small, but if the tribe wants, they can do the process all over again to add more property,” Hare said.

New housing and a community center are planned on 80 acres of land east of Angel of the Winds Casino, Yanity said. The planned development eventually could be added into the reservation. The tribe would also like to have a clinic on its reservation, he said.

“It’d be nice to be able to expand, but right now we have a lot of other things we’re trying to focus on,” he said.

A 125-room hotel, a gift shop and a smoke shop are under construction adjacent to the casino. The hotel is scheduled to open by spring 2015. Roadwork is also planned around the casino to patch up and widen streets and add lighting.

“It’s nice to keep most of our main infrastructure as close together as we can,” Yanity said.

Pulling tribal services together also lowers costs because resources can be concentrated in one area, he said.

The tribe could have become centralized without creating a reservation, but the designation is a solid starting place, Hare said.

“The main reason to do this is to show you’re established,” he said. “To have one, I think it’s kind of a historical thing.”

The Stillaguamish Tribe was one of more than 22 that signed the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, handing over several million acres to the U.S. government for minimal compensation. The Stillaguamish kept their fishing rights and gained federal recognition as a tribe in 1976.

Though most of the tribes in Washington now have reservations, at least three are still working on designating land and gaining approval, according to the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs.