Life in Bay Center on Willapa Bay

Living in a maritime fishing village in Southwest Washington state on Willapa Bay

Posts Tagged ‘Lewis and Clark’

Chinook Nation and Bay Center

Posted by pallix on October 3, 2007

It’s not mine to say, so better said by Native Americans of the Chinook Nation, link

excerpts:

The Chinooks paddled in to Point Ellice and brought the Corps food when their own boats could not manage the turbulent Columbia. Lewis and Clark praised the Chinooks’ skill and beautifully crafted canoes, then stole one on their way home.

The Corps of Discovery was the vanguard of a steadily increasing flow of traders, both from sea and inland. Within a few years, white people established trading posts in Astoria and in Vancouver. They pushed the Chinooks deeper inland and brought with them disease, including smallpox, malaria, and measles, wiping out almost 90 percent of the tribe. Where Lewis and Clark and their men once drifted down the Columbia past the fires of hundreds of Chinookan villages, now all that was left were abandoned longhouses and hastily dug graves.
To survive, the Chinooks married into other tribes and lived in insulated pockets where they could still fish and carry out their traditions as much as possible. One of these pockets of Chinooks was, and still is, the town of Bay Center, Washington.

It is still a Chinook stronghold, although many of the younger generation have moved away. At its peak, over a third of Bay Center’s inhabitants were Chinook. Charles Cultee, the Clatsop whose stories Frank Boas transcribed in 1894 in the book Chinook Texts, was one of the Indians who lived in a cabin along the beach. Phillip Hawk’s father, John Hawks, was another. Phillip was the last Chinook born in the village. His family moved up the hill to Bay Center when he was 5 or 6 years old and enrolled him in school. That’s when he learned to speak English.

Phillip is in his mid-80s now, but still strong from fishing crab and oysters and from his daily walks along the beach and through the swamp of cattails near the old Chinook village site. Walking today, we pass the carcass of a bear. We pass where the orchards used to be. We pass posts that once held up boardwalks through the swamp. Finally we come to the old village site on Willapa Bay, plotted out long ago so that people could walk out of their houses be at work immediately harvesting oysters. These days the beach is covered with spartina, an invasive weed from China that was carried in the bilge water of passing ships. The spartina chokes out the sweetgrass used by Chinooks in making baskets. The sweet, small native oysters are nearly gone, too, muscled out by the vigorous Pacific oysters seeded by Japanese fishermen.
The village site is grown over by alder and underbrush. Phillip shows us the plots that belonged to his family, the Cultees, and the Chinook minister. Cabins without electricity or running water sat in each plot. By the 1930s, the Chinooks abandoned most of the cabins for land on the Quinault reservation or houses with electricity in Bay Center. The last Chinook to live in the village, an elderly bachelor and one of the few Indians who could drive a car in Bay Center at the time, abandoned his cabin in 1953

We also see the corner post of an old Shaker church. Many of the Indians at Bay Center were Shakers. Tony Johnson explains that Shakers believed people didn’t need Bibles, they could talk directly to God — a belief that dovetailed smoothly with American Indian tradition.

The Chinook Nation is not federally recognized, which is a sore point with the Chinooks.
Council chairman Gary Johnson says that the tribe has always been recognized and shouldn’t have to apply for recognition. He points to the Halbert Decision of 1934 that granted land allotments to Chinooks and other tribal nations, and he notes that members of the tribe had received fishing rights for years. In 1967, the Bureau of Indian Affairs unilaterally delisted about 100 tribes, including the Chinooks, saying that they didn’t have reservations and therefore weren’t official tribes. (Later, the Sammish tribe claimed that the delisting was illegal and had its recognition re-instated.) In 1978, the Bureau of Indian Affairs established a Branch of Acknowledgement and Research to approve the recognition of tribes, and the Chinooks began a 23-year process to regain recognition.

At last, on January 3, 2001, the Chinook Nation was formally re-recognized. The tribe was elated. On the 89th day of the appeal period, the Quinault Tribe filed an appeal, saying that the Chinooks hadn’t followed the correct procedures in applying for recognition. Gary says that over half of the Quinault reservation’s allotments are held by Chinooks, and that federal recognition of the Chinooks was a threat to Quinault control of the reservation and its resources, including its casino.The appeals court reaffirmed the Chinooks’ recognition, but the appeal still had to be approved once again by the Department of the Interior.
By now, President George W. Bush had succeeded President Bill Clinton and appointed a new Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton. Rather than simply approving the judge’s confirmation of the tribe’s recognition, the Secretary subjected the appeal to a full review. The tribe was on pins and needles, but became optimistic when Gary Johnson and his wife were invited to a luncheon at the White House to commemorate tribal involvement with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Two days later the tribe received word that their recognition was denied.

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