February- Land & Identity

Land & Identity

by Jessica Porter

Land issues continue to be one of the single most devastating environmental challenges Native communities and their members face today. Systematic removal and relocation, through unconscionable means, reduced Native land title in the U.S. to only a fraction of a fraction of what it once was, dramatically impacting tribes’ and their members’ traditions, economic stability and overall wellbeing. For the Chinook Indian Nation, like so many other tribes within the U.S., these land issues are tightly interwoven with broader issues of identity and traditional practices.

After a string of failed treaties between the Chinook and the U.S. Government, the Quinault Reservation was expanded by Executive Order in 1873 from 10,000 acres to 200,000 for use by “tribes of fish-eating Indians on the Pacific Coast.” Subsequently, Chinook families were allotted more than 50% of the reservation. However, many Chinook remained within their unceded and traditional territory at the mouth of the Columbia River and Willapa Bay, which left them vulnerable to the impacts of impending non-Indian settlement.

The land and homestead acts of the late 1800’s brought a rapid influx of non-Indian settlers claiming title to vast acreage within the area. Because the Chinook were not considered citizens of the U.S. until 1924, they were not eligible for such claims, unless a Chinook woman was married to a “white” man. As non-Indian settlers laid claim to land, Chinook families were forced to scatter and relocate from their traditional villages, increasing the frequency of intermarriage.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. Government began practicing a form of political genocide that became known as the “Era of Termination.” During this time, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to sever its government-to-government relationship and treaty rights with certain tribes. Three of the five tribes within the Chinook Indian Nation were listed within the Western Oregon Termination Act. Consequently, all tribes within the Chinook Indian Nation stopped receiving services from the BIA in the 1960’s and have since faced an ongoing battle to protect traditional rights, provide services, and restore justice for their members.

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