Pacific County's Congressman is spearharding a fresh effort to secure federal recognition to the Chinook people.
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash. has introduced the Chinook Nation Restoration Act.
"If patience is in fact a virtue, then the Chinook People have more virtue than they know what to do with," said Baird. "It's time to finally do the right thing, and grant the tribe the recognition they've been waiting more than 150 years for. The time for talk is now over, now is the time for action."
Under the terms of the act, tribal members will still be able to fish and hunt as other Washington citizens can. However, they will have no special hunting and fishing rights.
The tribe has agreed to renounce any claim to land that is privately owned, although tribal members are free to pursue its purchase if the current owner is willing to sell. In exchange, the Chinook Nation will become eligible for federal funding to establish a reservation, improve healthcare and housing resources, and gain access to services through the Indian Health Services and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Baird said the Chinook People have agreed to a "remarkable compromise, and in return, all the federal government has to do is agree to the obvious: that the Chinook Nation exists and that it should be recognized."
The Chinook people gave comfort to Lewis and Clark when they arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River and first saw the Pacific Ocean. Historians contend that without the tribe's help, many in their group would not have survived the winter of 1805.
"I can think of no better way to honor my ancestors, nor any better gift to give to future generations of Chinook than to pass this bill, and end this long quest for recognition," said Ray Gardner, chairman of the Chinook Tribal Council. "The history of the Northwest cannot be told without the Chinook People, and thanks to the hard work of Congressman Baird, neither can the story of the region's future."
The Chinook have been close to recognition before. In addition to an unsigned 1851 treaty, they also suffered a near-miss during the Clinton Administration. In 2001, the tribe filed a petition with the Branch of the Federal Acknowledgement of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was approved late in the Clinton Administration, but rescinded by the Bush Administration before the process could be completed.
"While we can't change the past, we can change the future," said Baird. "This bill will ensure the Chinook are finally treated fairly. This is about fixing an injustice; it is simply the right thing to do."