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The Chinook Nation’s quest for federal recognition started with hiring lawyers to fight for land rights in 1899. The tribe was recognized in 2001, but the status was revoked 18 months later after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled that it failed to prove it had consistently existed as a tribe through history.
The revocation was traumatic, said Johnson, who cut his hair in a traditional sign of mourning. He said he sometimes looks back at a letter he wrote to his children about the bright future ahead and wants to scream.
They’re still battling for the status and got a boost from a U.S. judge who ruled about a year ago that a ban on the tribe reapplying for federal recognition was unjustified.
Meanwhile, the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, a tribe in Los Angeles County without a land base, has raised $2.6 million to build a case. It’s among six tribes based in California, Florida, Michigan and New Mexico whose petitions are being considered by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Five more tribes in Louisiana, North Carolina and California are seeking federal recognition but haven’t completed their paperwork yet.
The Los Angeles-area tribe’s 900 members are facing job losses and food insecurity, tribal President Rudy Ortega said.
The problems are not unlike what federally recognized tribes and others are facing in the pandemic, he said, but his tribe has additional roadblocks to financial help. Grant funding has helped, but applying for the money has become more arduous after 10 tribal government employees were laid off, Ortega said.
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