Chinook Indian Nation sees injustice


Well-meaning people of Oregon and Clatsop County are unknowingly working to perpetuate an injustice on the Chinook Indian Nation (Clatsop, Kathlamet, Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum and Willapa Tribes), with a bill recently introduced to Congress.

The “Clatsop-Nehalem Restoration Act” would usurp the acknowledged inheritance of the very Native peoples who its kind supporters hope to help.

The well-known Chinook Indian Nation, including its 767 Clatsop members, has fought continuously since the 1890s to clarify our status at the mouth of the Columbia River. The Chinook Indian Nation consists of the Clatsop and Kathlamet Tribes of what is now Oregon and the Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum and Willapa Tribes of modern Washington.  

The Nation’s modern constitution was written by the leaders of these five tribes in 1950. The constitution outlines tribal membership criteria and clearly references the five Anson Dart treaties signed in 1851 by the Clatsop, Kathlamet, Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum and Willapa ancestors of the Chinook Indian Nation. The Nation has consistently worked to represent all of its members, who typically descend from several of its five tribes as well as a variety of neighboring tribes including the Nehalem, Tillamook, Chehalis, Satsop and Cowlitz.

The so called “Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes” were conceived after the year 2000 in conjunction with Lewis and Clark Bicentennial activities. Created by a small group of recently returned to the area individuals and (primarily) former members of the Chinook Indian Nation, the so-called “Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes” are setting themselves up to become a recognized tribe at the expense of the much larger and older Chinook Indian Nation, where the vast majority of Clatsop people are enrolled and continue their centuries-old fight. More than 25 percent of the 3,000 members of the Chinook Indian Nation are of Clatsop descent.

The Chinook Indian Nation’s inheritance of its Clatsop heritage was affirmed by the federal government’s Indian (Land) Claims Commission in 1958, when “Docket 234” allowed the Nation to sue the federal government regarding the lands of the Lower Chinook and Clatsop people. The unconscionably small amount awarded the Nation is still held in trust in Washington, D.C., for the Nation. Statements for these Clatsop and Lower Chinook monies are sent directly to the Chinook Indian Nation Tribal Office currently located on Willapa Bay in Bay Center, Wash.

As part of its efforts to clarify its status the Chinook Indian Nation petitioned the federal government for acknowledgment in 1982, and was eventually granted status in 2001. Amazingly this decision was reversed by the incoming Bush Administration after just 18 months.

The Chinook Indian Nation is the historically appropriate place for all Clatsop people. Vice chairman and spokesman of the newly formed Clatsop-Nehalem group, Dick Basch, knows this. He served as a Tribal Council member for the Chinook Indian Nation for over 30 years. His mother worked for the Nation before him. In fact, he participated in the signing of the Chinook Indian Nation recognition document in Washington, D.C., in January 2001 as a Chinook Indian Nation Tribal Council member.

The Clatsop people of the Clatsop-Nehalem do not represent a distinct group that is different than the Chinook Nation’s Clatsop members. This is evidenced by the former long-term enrollment in the Chinook Indian Nation of a number of its founding members. In fact, there are no distinct Clatsop families enrolled within their group that do not also have a large number of relatives enrolled within the Nation, enrollments that long predate the creation of the new group.  

Further, the Clatsop-Nehalem has allowed non-Clatsop (or Nehalem) people to serve on their council and represent themselves as Clatsop in public. For the Clatsop people of the Chinook Nation this is wholly unacceptable. First the group attempts to usurp the Nation’s inherited rights, and then it allows non-Clatsop people to speak for them.

The five tribes of the Chinook Indian Nation spoke the same language, Chinookan, and have been historically linked from time immemorial. The Nehalem spoke an entirely unrelated language, a variety of Tillamook Salish. At no point in history or in any document written prior to the 21st century is there a mention of a Clatsop-Nehalem Tribe. As Dick Basch himself put it in 2002, “… the two are apples and oranges!”

Those currently working with the Clatsop-Nehalem have an obligation to meet with and learn the story of the Chinook Indian Nation and its 767 Clatsop people. Three of the five tribes of the Nation were listed in

Public Law 588, the “Western Oregon Termination act” of 1954.

The majority of the Chinook Indian Nation’s members continue to reside within their traditional territories in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. The inheritance of these Clatsop, Chinook, Wahkiakum, Kathlamet and Willapa people is important and no effort can, or should, work to diminish the acknowledged rights of its 3,000 members.

The Chinook Indian Nation invites its longtime friends and all interested individuals to learn more and help work to clarify the status of this important Nation and its members. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions at 360-875-6670 or

The Chinook Indian Nation is the historically appropriate place for all Clatsop people.

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